One of the most exciting opportunities offered by an election year is the chance to hear elected officials discuss issues that are important to our communities and families, and to learn more about their personal priorities as legislators. Long term care issues afford Maine voters a chance to compare candidates in a way that’s been left out of television ads and newspaper profiles thus far. Even though policy agendas are set by balancing a wide range of interests—party priority, current events, contact by outside groups and constituents—a legislator’s personal commitment to an issue is often drawn out during election season and then borne out during her or his time as an elected official.
Recently, Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves held a telephone town hall conference with MPA members to discuss his legislative initiative, KeepMEHome, a package which proposes legislation to use bonding authority to ensure that seniors’ housing costs are as low as possible, as well as a plan to raise the wages of those providing in-home care. Speaker Eves has long been a champion on addressing issues of long-term care and aging, so his proposal was not a shock. What did catch many people by surprise was that Governor LePage spoke out in favor of the initiative. Perhaps the collective head-turn may be attributed to the governor’s policies throughout the past four years, vetoing legislation to modestly increase the minimum wage and repeatedly attempting to slash funding for the Drugs for the Elderly program.
Voters should remember to balance the governor’s words against his record over the past four years. Helping more seniors age at home with dignity requires a governor who can work with (rather than polarize) legislators; a governor who understands the importance of paying caregivers a living wage and creating a system of care that cuts across party lines and meets the needs of Maine seniors.
In short, it requires seeing Maine’s aging population as an asset, not a burden. While the issue of how to care for Maine’s seniors might not come up in every candidate meet-and-greet or town hall event, the way the gubernatorial candidates talk about Maine’s seniors reveals some important contrasts. For example, Eliot Cutler writes extensively about the need to make Maine younger in his book. He dedicates significant passages of his writing to descriptions of a state bowing under the weight of a generation of aging community members, and claims, “The greatest obstacle to Maine’s prosperity isn’t our climate, our location, or our taxes. Rather, it’s the age of our population. The most important imperative of all…is that Maine must get younger fast.”
While we all want young people to stay in Maine, there’s no reason that Maine’s aging population cannot or should not be seen as an asset for our communities. Rather than scapegoating seniors for the economic challenges facing our state, candidates for governor should demonstrate a commitment to plans that help seniors age where they want and with the dignity everyone deserves, while at the same time understanding the opportunity to create jobs in a burgeoning caring economy in our state.
The KeepMeHome initiative makes perfect sense for Maine’s seniors, and for the generations who come after them. The plan is a forward-looking balance of immediate care needs, housing and transportation concerns, and a workforce development component that will create more jobs that pay living wages. With a new governor who sees Maine’s seniors as an asset to our communities (instead of a burden), passage of the KeepMeHome plan will be an important first step toward strengthening the Maine economy by finding better ways to care for Maine seniors.