Here in Maine, we all share three important beliefs – we believe in a strong Maine economy, in the ability of Mainers to find solutions to difficult challenges and in the importance of justice.

I will start with justice. We can all agree that if people are being harmed by collective forces outside of their individual control, we must act to address the harm.

Unfortunately, the proposed biennial budget includes little to mitigate the harm currently being done to thousands of older Mainers going without care. This is why we’ve asked the Legislature to make significant investments in Maine’s essential care workforce, and why we need you to take action now.

Here’s where we are.

Each week, 10,000 hours of approved care goes undelivered to older and disabled Mainers because of staffing shortages. Last week, 538 older Mainers, most of whom are nursing home eligible, received no staffing at all.

A thousand older people are waiting to access the Homemaker Program; 250 current clients are without any staffing.

Nearly 800 older people are waiting to access Home and Community Support Services. The waitlist is higher than the number of people being served.

This fall, thousands of new Meals on Wheels recipients who qualify for the program will be told they will no longer be getting meals because funding has run out.

We are warehousing older people in hospitals when nursing homes and assisted living facilities have empty beds because of staffing shortages.

We hear from geriatricians, housing coordinators and family members, asking for help in finding care for their patients, residents and loved ones, care that simply doesn’t exist.

The cost of care for older Mainers exceeds the budgets of most Maine households. The 2020 Long Term Supports and Services Scorecard ranks Maine 44th in the nation for affordability and accessibility; 47th in cost of private-pay nursing home care (fourth least affordable in the U.S.), and 50th in cost of private-pay home care (least affordable).

This isn’t about people not working hard enough, or a family not stepping up. This is about Maine’s workforce crisis, an undervalued segment of workers and a historic lack of investments in low-cost interventions that support healthy aging. These are problems no one individual can solve.

Justice demands that, when we know people are going without the services they are qualified to receive and need to receive in order to live, we must act to correct the harm being caused.

We live in a market-driven economy. When government pays less than market rates for services, this puts businesses that rely on government contracts at a competitive disadvantage.

Currently, care providers are serving all of the people they can with the funding being provided. Let that sink in. There will be no solution to this problem unless we increase funding for essential care workers.

This is also an issue of equity. The care workforce is dominated by women, often women of color and women new to this country, and historically underpaid. Older people and people with disabilities and behavioral health challenges are not valued as productive. We must consider these equity issues, and our own internal biases about the people receiving care, in our decision-making processes.

Economists believe that a significant investment in our social infrastructure, the care economy, during a time of economic downturn and high unemployment, has the potential to create thousands of good-paying, quality jobs. This sort of investment also has the potential to narrow gender and racial pay gaps, address historic inequities and expand overall household income.

Critically important, investing in lower-cost and higher-value care pays dividends. Meals on Wheels and in-home care increase health and reduce avoidable health care and facility care utilization, the most expensive kinds of care.

We can tap Maine’s innovative confidence to solve our current challenges and build a stronger economy along the way. Elevating the economic status of our essential care workforce will pay dividends and bring justice to thousands waiting for care.

If you want a different reality for yourself and loved ones, call your legislators; email the governor; ask them to build an equitable and just budget with significant investments in Maine’s essential care workforce and services for older Mainers.

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