America’s Oldest State Campaigns for Universal Home Care

A local coalition of senior and public advocacy organizations have launched a campaign to provide—and pay for—universal home care in Maine, the state with the oldest median population.

Maine People’s Alliance, an organization that aims to bring individuals and organizations together through grassroots initiatives and education, launched the campaign with Caring Across Generations, an aging and caregiver advocacy organization. Maine People’s Alliance will begin collecting the needed 61,123 signatures to get universal home care on the 2018 ballot in the state as a referendum measure.

Universal home care will be provided to eligible Mainers if the measure is approved by creating a trust fund that will administer resources to help families pay for care. Any Maine resident 65 and older who needs help with at least one activity of daily living (ADL), and those with disabilities, will be eligible for care under the new program.

“By 2030, the population of Mainers over 65 will double,” Kevin Simowitz, political director at Caring Across Generations, told Home Health Care News. “There is a rough estimate that one in seven Mainers will need some level of long-term care and supportive services.”

The initiative will be funded with roughly $100 million raised through a tax increase on employers and earners making more than $127,000 in the state—the Social Security wage cap, according to Simowitz. Maine residents making $127,000 or more will see a 1.9% tax increase if the measure is approved, while employers will also see a 1.9% payroll tax. Unearned income above that threshold will be taxed at 3.8%.

“The state of Maine continues to give tax breaks to high-income Mainers,” Simowitz said. “…This proposal to [aims to] close a tax loophole and close it in a way that speaks to exactly what [the state’s] need is. …Most families in the state make below that amount of money and can’t pay for care. This is a little more fair, and everybody would be able to access the same services.”

The funding will immediately help ease a waiting list of residents in need of MaineCare services, including residential staffing and supports for people who need ongoing, in-home supervision and assistance. The wait list currently has 1,613 people on it, according to the Office of Aging and Disability Services.

The measure also contains a requirement that some of the funding goes to home health care workers. Organizations and home health care agencies that provide services and receive financing from the universal home care trust fund would be required to pay 77% of the money directly to workers, according to Simowitz. The measure also has reporting standards built into it to ensure the money gets to the workers.

“The population [in Maine] is getting older, and attracting younger people to the state and retaining the workforce is a huge priority,” Simowitz said. “In a lot of ways, it’s a perfect opportunity to meet the needs of aging people and create jobs for the future of the state.”

The measure borrows on ideas from other states, Simowitz noted, though no others have universal home care.

“Maine is a good place to start; it is the oldest state in the country, with the oldest median age,” Simowitz said. “The need in Maine is particularly pressing.”

Caring Across Generations hopes that Maine’s initiative, if successful, will inspire other states to take action on similar measures for universal home care. The petition to get the measure on the ballot is expected to be presented to the state at the end of the year.

Written by Amy Baxter

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Amy Baxter
Assistant Editor at Home Health Care News
When not writing about all things home health, Amy fulfills her lifelong dream of becoming a pirate by sailing in regattas and enjoying rum. Fun fact: she sailed 333 miles across Lake Michigan in the Chicago Yacht Club "Race to Mackinac."