AUGUSTA — Every day, in homes across Maine, families have difficult conversations. “How are we going to take care of Mom and Dad? Is a nursing home our only option?” “What can we do to meet the needs of our child with a chronic illness? Will one of us need to leave our job? Is getting help to stay in our home going to cost us our life savings?”

MEDICARE, VA FALL SHORT

The lack of access to home care options that creates these fears is both wrong and economically unsustainable. The need for long-term care isn’t something that is easy to prepare for. For many families it comes as the result of an unexpected illness or injury.

Medicare doesn’t cover home care, so unexpected need can throw a real wrench in your career or drain your retirement savings quickly. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t always cover long-term care for thousands of veterans, leaving them without home care as an option.

It shouldn’t be this way. No family should go broke to care for a loved one, and no senior should be forced from their home if they don’t need to be and that isn’t what they want.

That’s why hundreds of volunteers came together last year to advocate for a solution. They stood at polling places and post offices and in snowy church parking lots and gathered more than 65,000 signatures to place a citizen initiative on the ballot to provide home care options for those who need them.

AIDING DISABLED, SENIORS

The Homecare for All referendum will go to a vote in November; if it’s approved, it would offer families that need daily living assistance in order to keep a family member at home access to those necessary services, regardless of their income. All seniors and Mainers with disabilities would be covered. The services would be overseen by a board of care providers and recipient family members to make sure funding goes where it’s needed.

The initiative also ensures that home care workers are paid a fair, livable wage. Right now, workers doing this job make just above the minimum wage, which is often not enough to make ends meet for their own families.

Maine is the oldest state in the country, and we have a shortfall of care workers. To address this workforce shortage, we need to pay better wages to home care workers to encourage more people to pursue this work as a sustainable career.

The citizen initiative would pay for increased home care services by closing a tax loophole that benefits only about the wealthiest 1.6 percent.

If you’re like more than 98 percent of people in this state, you already pay a tax on all of the income you earn in order to fund Social Security, and your employer does the same. Individuals who are paid more than $128,400 a year, however, currently do not pay any Social Security tax on income greater than that amount. The referendum would ask them to pay a bit more of their fair share on all of their income, like the rest of us already do.

WEALTHIEST ASKED TO HELP OUT

I don’t believe that’s too much to ask of the very wealthiest – who have had four tax breaks in the last seven years – in order to help find a solution for our seniors and people living with disabilities.

Opponents of this referendum, obviously, don’t agree. They have called this effort “class warfare,” and say it picks the pockets of the rich. That’s not at all what this referendum is about. The supporters of this initiative only want the wealthiest 1.6 percent at the very top to pay taxes on all of their income, something the rest of us already do. Of course we should narrow this tax loophole.

Homecare for All is an important and fundamentally popular proposal. It makes economic sense and I think almost everyone agrees that we have a home care problem that needs to be solved. Failure to find a fix to this problem will disproportionately harm seniors and people with disabilities. I believe the Homecare for All referendum is a workable solution, and I hope that voters will agree come November.


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