BRUNSWICK

Midcoast legislators gathered at Coastal Landing Retirement Community last week to discuss the political process and how citizens can become more involved.

Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, and several Midcoast representatives spoke to a packed room as part of AARP Maine’s monthly Coffee and Conversation series. Each legislator was given time to speak, and discussions included how they became involved in politics, what bills they introduced last session and how to address the issues faced by Maine’s elderly population.

“The one thing that we all have in common, lord willing, is that we’re gonna age. And I did the math and I figured I was heading in that direction pretty quickly,” said Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath. “So I have a vested interest in aging in place.”

Aging in place is important for many Maine seniors, but it can be difficult on a fixed income, noted DeChant. Property taxes can squeeze households with small fixed incomes even tighter, making it all but impossible to afford to age in place. Thankfully, DeChant said, there are local initiatives to ease the process.

“Bath Housing Authority has a great program that’s privately funded that helps assess and make changes in homes,” said DeChant.

“We as a state have become increasingly dependent on the property tax, and this is a real issue … for our older Mainers on fixed income. The question is, how do we deal with that?” said Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham. “I’m not sure I really know the answer to that question, but I do know that the conversation has to happen fully, clearly and democratically in the state of Maine about how we’re going to pay for the services that we want and need, particularly as we age as a population.”

One way to address aging issues, noted members of the panel, is for constituents to get involved.

There are many ways to get involved, and DeChant encouraged residents to reach out to representatives on issues that negatively affect them. A large number of the 2,000 plus bills submitted in the last legislative session were bills that were put in by representatives at the request of their constituents.

“A lot of my legislative experience has been really burgeoning up from constituents,” said DeChant.

Another way for citizens to become involved is to go to Augusta to testify. While that may seem intimidating to some, said Sandy Jaeger of AARP Maine, AARP was working to make it easier.

“(Maine Advocacy Director for AARP Amy Gallant) started something this year that is spectacular, and I’m sure she’d invite you all to participate. It’s called Tuesdays at the State House,” said Jaeger.

Every other Tuesday, AARP invites members of the public to come up to Augusta, where they’ll guide people through the legislative process and show them the different places they may need to go to get involved. The event started earlier this year with just three people in attendance, but by the end of session had grown to about 20 participants weekly, said Jaeger.

“People who have never before visited the state house are invited by AARP to come on every other Tuesday to walk around with us, go into the Senate Chamber, go into the House Chamber, to attend caucus … and see how it works,” said Jaeger. “This is open to all of us and it makes a huge difference.”

“The extreme opportunity that Amy Gallant organizes is that it really takes the mystique out of it,” said Jennifer DeChant. “The point is, you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to go or where you’re going to park or any of that kind of stuff because she’s the one who facilitates it.”

“Please do come to Augusta,” Rep. Jennifer McCreight, D-Harpswell, urged attendees. “Either Tuesday or any day that we have committees.”

The next Brunswick AARP event will be Oct. 18 at 11 a.m., with Senior Staff Attorney for Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties Liz La Pierre, who will speak about legal services for the elderly.



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