My 25 years as a classroom teacher in Maine was the most rewarding and most challenging experience I’ve ever had. I was blessed to belong to a strong community of fellow professionals. One of my teaching colleagues and best friend, Bob Sprankle, was an amazing man and an excellent teacher, and was a recipient of the Maine Technology Teacher of the Year Award.

Henry Ingwersen

Unfortunately, in 2007, he began suffering from unbearable chronic nerve pain caused by a hernia operation. Bob used his sick days, used days from the sick bank, took a leave of absence, and tried and failed twice to receive disability benefits under the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. The bar for receiving these MainePERS disability benefits was impossibly high at the time.

When all of his options ran out, Bob returned to work. The pain medications did little to alleviate his pain, and Bob set up a cot in a storage closet near his classroom so he could rest between painful teaching sessions. He eventually had to stop work altogether. For eight years, Bob suffered through this chronic pain, and in 2015, finally began to receive long-overdue disability retirement benefits.

Bob passed away in 2015. Witnessing his painful and unjust journey has inspired me and others to improve the MainePERS disability insurance program. It was no longer enough to assume that by contributing to MainePERS with every paycheck, we would be taken care of if we fell ill for a long period of time.

MainePERS currently has a short-term disability retirement program, and while this program provides some financial security during short-term disabilities, when folks like Bob Sprankle have long-term disabilities, their disability may fall outside of the current program. This is devastating for public employees – too sick to work, yet no long-term disability program to help you stay afloat financially.

The final step is still not there: a long-term disability benefit for MainePERS members similar to the disability benefits available under Social Security. Since Maine public employees do not pay into Social Security, they are not eligible for disability benefits in the Social Security program. MainePERS has a gap in coverage – Social Security does not have the same gap. It is also important to note that teachers and state employees pay 7.65% of their salary to MainePERS whereas if they were in Social Security they would only be required to pay 6.2%.


Long-term disability insurance is not a luxury; rather, it is imperative to ensure the health and well-being of Mainers working as public employees. This insurance provides crucial income protection for those who are unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness or injury. Without this insurance, public employees risk financial hardship and instability in their time of need. The importance of long-term disability cannot be overstated. That’s why I’ve sponsored LD 1152, “An Act to Require Public Employers to Provide Long-term Disability Insurance Coverage.”

Because of Bob’s and other MainePERS members’ experiences, there have been some reforms to the current disability retirement system that have helped. In 2021, the Legislature made significant changes to the short-term disability program, and those improvements have helped both the system and the members.

As part of that effort, a task force was convened to investigate the options to provide a long-term disability plan to all MainePERS participants. The task force, led by MainePERS, worked together and developed a framework for implementing such a program. LD 1152 is the fruit of that report. I’m proud to share that this bill has passed initial votes in the Senate and House. We must work to support Maine’s teachers, police, firefighters, and other state and municipal employees so they can have access to long term disability insurance similar to what those who contribute to Social Security have.

If you have any questions about the information here or would like to reach out with a comment, question or concern, you can reach out to me any time. If you want to stay up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, please sign up for my email newsletter at or visit my Facebook page at

Henry Ingwersen represents Senate District 32 which is made up of Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Hollis and Lyman. He can be reached at or 207-287-1515.

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