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Aging in Maine
  • Maine State Sen. Carson's Public Health Nursing Bill holds back LePage's attack on healthcare

    The Maine Legislature on August 2, 2017 successfully rebuked Gov. Paul LePage’s last-ditch effort to block a new law to restore the strength of Maine’s public health nursing program, which protects the state’s people from disease outbreaks and works with communities to provide preventative health services.

    The Senate overrode the governor’s veto with a 29-5 vote, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for the bill to become law over LePage’s objection. The override vote also won two-thirds in the House of Representatives, 101-34.

    The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brownie Carson, said the veto override would reverse Gov. LePage’s year long effort to dismantle Maine’ public health infrastructure.

    “There is no greater obligation for elected officials than ensuring the health and wellbeing of the residents in this great state, and public health nurses are the vanguard of our public health system,” said Sen. Carson, a Harpswell Democrat. “These dedicated health professionals protect us from disease outbreaks, they work with our families to ensure the health of our children, and they address a dire need for preventative health services at the community level. They work with anyone, regardless of their income or their insurance status. For six years, this administration has attacked our public health infrastructure. This bill is a critical step to reversing the damage.”

    Unlike other health care providers who treat individuals, public health nurses promote and protect the health of entire populations, with a goal of preventing disease and disability.  In Maine, PHNs conduct home visits with young families and pregnant women, providing education and assessment to help new moms and dads raise healthy children. They also assist families with substance-affected babies, and help frail or isolated Mainers in rural parts of the state stay in their homes by providing in-home care.

    But their work goes beyond the household, and PHNs provide crisis response services, such as in 2009 when they established 238 clinics in Maine to provide H1N1 vaccines. In 2011, 59 public health nurses worked throughout the state from offices ranging from Sanford to Calais to Fort Kent. But since 2011, positions in the public health nursing program have been left vacant or eliminated. Today, the program is a shadow of its former self, with just one-third the staff on hand to respond to emergencies and promote wellbeing in Maine. Cuts and understaffing in the state’s corps of public health nurses has jeopardized Maine’s ability to respond to health crises such as disease outbreaks and the drug epidemic.

    This year, the biennial budget includes 48 positions within the Public Health Nursing program. Sen. Carson’s bill, LD 1108, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to promptly fill those positions, removing Gov. LePage’s ability to gut public health services by refusing to hire. The bill will ensure professional public health nurses will stand at the ready to safeguard Maine’s wellbeing against health emergencies, chronic disease and epidemic.

    Today’s shortage leaves the state unprepared to meet the public health needs of Mainers in the best of times, let alone in an emergency. In the meantime, Maine has bucked national trends to become the only state where infant mortality rates are rising, and a drug epidemic is ravaging communities throughout the state.

    Last year, 1,000 drug-affected babies were born in Maine. At the same time, referrals for homes visits by public health nurses are going unfulfilled because of a lack of staffing in the program.

    The bill earned bipartisan support, and the backing of the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association, AARP Maine and the Primary Care Association. Health care professionals including doctors, nurses and public health experts from Eastern Maine Health, Central Maine Health and several rural, critical-access hospitals also testified in favor of the bill.

    TESTIMONY FROM EXPERTS IN SUPPORT OF LD 1108:

    “We have a public health system for the same reason we have police, and firemen, and the military. These groups all serve to protect us from threats,” said Dr. Dervilla McCann, chief of population health at Central Maine Medical Center. McCann described the 1918 flu pandemic that rocked Maine and killed more people globally in 24 years than AIDS killed in 24 years. “At a time when the state is struggling with an opioid epidemic impacting newborns, it seems extraordinarily ill timed to dismantle the single best tool we have to safeguard at risk children. Similarly, it is foolhardy to leave the citizens of our state in the same state of unreadiness that lead to such tragic loss of life 100 years ago.”

    Peter Michaud, J.D., R.N. from the Maine Medical Association, pushed back against the idea that other health care providers can perform the tasks of public health nurses: “Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and the nurses who work with them have their hands full with what they do now, and with the opioid crisis they are being asked to do even more. It makes no sense to add the entire menu of public health nursing to their plates. They don’t have the capacity to handle the additional duties, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to respond to a new outbreak of infectious disease.”

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • She worked for everyone in Maine and now Lennie needs us to help with her cancer

    Lennie's Medical Fund - GoFundMe 

    My mother, Lennie Mullen, has devoted her life to public service in Maine.  Sadly, she was diagnosed with anal and colon cancer in April of 2016.  The radiation and chemo she received in Maine appears to have put the anal cancer in remission.  Unfortunately, the colon cancer has metastasized.

    In order to take care of my mom I had to move her to San Diego to live with me.  She had to make the hard decision to leave all her friends and family and move.  

    She is presently receiving treatment at Scripp's Cancer Center.  She has undergone so much radiation.  I tease her that she likes to go there so much because the doctor and staff are wonderful.  Chemo has been really hard on her.  We still have not found that "coctail" that is going to work long term.  Mom develops small tumors throughout her body, and a couple in her lungs.  The radiation is helping, but the main goal is to stop anymore from developing.  I lost count at over 20. We are encouraged with the treatment and she has a very positive attitude--refers to treatment as a journey.
    Below is a link that talks about immunotherapy for anyone interested in learning more.
    https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy.html 
    (On Feb, 8 PBS aired a new article on immunotherapy see it HERE. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/cancer-immunotherapy-life-saving-powers-limits/
    There is hope.)

    The money raised will allow us more options with her medical treatment. 

    Mom's professional life has been devoted to helping people. 

    She served as a constituent service advocate for a United States Congressman, and later for the Governor of Maine. She has always been there to help others, and her family.  She does not realize how all her small contributions have left such a large impact on the lives of everyone she helped. 

    I know that any small contribution to help her now, will have a large impact on her recovery. 

    When you loose your job, for whatever the reason, you need to find value in your life.  Mom needs to find her strength and value from the Cancer that has taken over her body.  She needs to be able to go the beach, visit family when she is stronger, and treat herself to going to an estate sale.  She can not do any of these things without my financial help.  She wants to be able to buy groceries or pay for her perscriptions. Her limited income does not allow for any of this.  

    She is now facing her toughest challenge.  Cancer treatment is costly even with insurance.  The co-pays, supplements, insurance premium, medical supplies not covered by insurance, and eating healthy food has created a financial hardship that hopefully GoFundMe can assist.  Could you help?

    Help spread the word!
  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Campaign Launched in Maine to Expand Access To Health Care Coverage

    A broad coalition, on October 12, 2016, launched a citizens’ initiative campaign to expand access to health care for tens of thousands of Mainers.

    The campaign will begin collecting signatures to place a question on the November 2018ballot that would allow Maine to accept federal funds to provide health coverage through the expansion of MaineCare. 

    “Five times, Republicans, Democrats and independents have come together to do the right thing in the Legislature, but the governor has prevented its progress each time,” said Dr. Chuck Radis of Portland, a citizen sponsor of the initiative. “If lawmakers in Augusta can’t get it done, we will be left with no choice but to take our case to Maine voters. Making sure more people have access to health care coverage is too important to wait any longer. We can’t allow one person to stand in the way of making Maine healthier and our economy stronger.”

    Accepting federal funds would provide health coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers, most who work, including 3,000 veterans and at least 20,000 working parents with children living at home. 

    If successful, the initiative would ensure that affordable health care is available to families earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is about $27,821 for a family of three. 

    Accepting the dollars set aside for Maine would also restore affordable coverage for the 40,000 people in Maine who lost health care coverage when Maine opted not to accept these federal funds.   

    “I go to work everyday to earn a living and to support my family, but I still can’t afford health insurance,” said Kathy Phelps, a hairdresser from Waterville, who lost coverage. “I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I don’t expect anything for free. I work hard, but I can’t afford the cost of health insurance or health care. At 59, I still have six years to go before I qualify for Medicare. This initiative could save my life.”

    Accepting federal funds to expand MaineCare coverage is a good deal for Maine. The federal government would pay most of the cost of coverage for newly eligible people (95-93 percent of the cost through 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond). 

    The initiative also would bring nearly $470 million in new federal funds to our state and create more than 3,000 good paying jobs, while saving the state budget an estimated $27 million a year.

    “MaineCare provides access to health care that many Mainers, including veterans who would otherwise be unable to get insurance,” said Tom Ptacek, the veteran’s health care outreach community organizer at Preble Street. “Accepting federal dollars to expand MaineCare will help our state fight addiction, keep people in their homes and make it possible for them to work.” 

    Thirty-two states, including the District of Columbia, have accepted federal funds to provide health care to people with low-incomes. Maine is the only state in New England that has not expanded access to health care. 

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation studied 11 states that accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid programs and concluded that states “consistently show that expansion generates savings and revenue which can be used to finance other state spending priorities or to offset much, if not all, of the state costs of expansion.”

    The report cited the many benefits of expanding Medicaid including reduced state spending on programs serving the uninsured and broader benefits, including job growth, deep reductions in state uninsured rates and related decreases in hospital uncompensated care costs.

    To place a question on the 2018 ballot, the coalition will need to collect at least 61,123 signatures.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Republican legislators that voted against property tax relief, students and factory workers exposed

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee launched a series of digital ads challenging four Republican state legislators for their key votes against property tax relief, teachers and working Mainers.

    “These four Republican legislators have repeatedly voted against the interests of hardworking Mainers, and these ads call them out by name,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Mainers deserve to know where their legislators stand, and these ads show just that. We will continue to hold Republicans accountable for failing to fight for the people they are supposed to serve.” 

    Workers at Kennebec Lumber in Solon, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, Sen. Rodney Whittemore of Skowhegan, and Rep. Ricky Long of Sherman all voted against major bills:

    1. to provide property tax relief for seniors, 
    2. to address Maine’s dire teacher shortage,
    3. a “Buy America” bill that would have required state contractors to use materials made in the United States.

    Wielder in Waterville, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Voters need senators who will work every day to give them a fighting chance, so that people who work hard and play by the rules can get ahead,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “Our candidates are committed to an economy in which everyone has a fair shot at success. These ads highlight the simple question Mainers all over the state have for Republicans in the Legislature: Where were you when Maine’s seniors, students and manufacturing workers needed you?”

    Maine is one of only ten states in the nation that have not recovered all the jobs it lost in the recession. The state continues to lag behind the rest of New England economically. 

    The digital ads can be found at the links below:

  • Editorial: Rep. Doore: We need an economy that works for all of us

     

    Editorial by Rep. Doore:

    Minimum wage boost would help workers, their families and our entire economy

    In November, voters will decide whether Maine’s low-wage workers will finally get a raise. I say it’s about time.

    I believe an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay and that no Mainer working full time should live in poverty. But our minimum wage here in Maine has been stuck at $7.50 an hour since 2009. 

    Even though the cost of living keeps going up, wages are nowhere close to keeping pace. We have a chance to move Maine’s wage a bit closer to a living wage. 

    Under the proposal, the minimum wage would go up to $9 next year. It would increase gradually after that – $1 a year until it reaches $12 in 2020 – and then have a cost-of-living adjustment pegged to the federal Consumer Price Index.

    These days, a Mainer working full-time for the minimum wage takes home only about $12,300 a year – that’s about $300 a week. No one can support a family on wages like these. 

    The governor is painting an inaccurate picture of the ballot question and Maine’s low-wage workers.

    The fact is that 90 percent of low-wage workers are 20 years old and older.

    They include hard-working Mainers in highly skilled positions. They are nursing assistants, preschool teachers and paramedics. They are working seniors who can’t afford to retire. They are working parents struggling to support their children.

    A new report – Kids Count – shows that a growing number of Maine children are living in poverty. Forty-eight thousand Maine kids – 19 percent – are growing up poor. Clearly, we are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our kids and what this means for the future of our entire state. 

    Raising the minimum wage is one thing we can do to get us moving in the right direction. This much-needed boost in the minimum wage would help workers, their families and our entire economy.

    More Mainers will be able to climb out of poverty and be able provide their kids with groceries, a roof over their heads and other basics. And putting more money in the pockets of working Mainers benefits the economy by generating millions in additional consumer spending.

    What we need is an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

    But the governor fails to see that. He keeps pushing policies that would hurt everyday Mainers.

    Even though many of his fellow Republicans oppose it, the governor keeps trying to sell his income tax plan. It would be a great deal for the wealthy. But getting rid of the income tax would simply shift the burden onto everyday Mainers and put at risk important public services like schools, police, fire protection and road maintenance.

    Eliminating the income tax would create a huge hole – one that we could not fill even if we cut off all state funding for public education and higher education.

    Who would be left to pick up the rest of the tab?

    Property taxpayers like you and me. Working families that are struggling to keep up, let alone put some money aside for their future. Seniors on fixed incomes who are already having a hard time staying in their homes.

    It’s time for policies that promote strong communities and a brighter economic future for all of us. I hope you’ll keep that in mind when you weigh in on the minimum wage in November.

     

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Portland, Maine's, snow shoveling program for those 65 and older

    After coordinating the service for ten years, 80-year-old Munjoy Hill resident, Joan Sheedy, passed the torch to keep the snow shoveling program for elderly residents in operation. This winter, the City of Portland's Office of Elder Affairs, with help from volunteer coordinators in several Portland neighborhoods, will match Portland residents who are aged 65+ or have physical disabilities that make snow shoveling difficult with volunteer groups and individuals willing to shovel.

    Volunteers are asked to shovel the steps and a path from the front door to the sidewalk as well as the stretch of sidewalk in front of the property. They are not asked to shovel the entire driveway or clear snow from roofs. The idea is to create a path which allows the senior citizen, emergency responders, Meals on Wheels delivery people, mail carriers and other visitors to get in and out of the house safely.

    Once a volunteer receives an “assignment”, they will shovel for the same resident(s) after each storm throughout the winter.

    To request snow shoveling assistance or to volunteer, please contact one of the following individuals, depending on your location:

    Deering -         Leah Koch      207-239-7051 

    East End -       Molly McCarthy   857-204-6856

    West End -      Wells Lyons      207-274-1221

    Back Cove -    Carol Colton     207-899-3092 or 508-728-1296

    Other neighborhoods (and FMI) Linda Weare, Office of Elder Affairs, City of Portland 207-541-6620

  • AARP survey: Maine shoppers susceptible to holiday scams

         With Black Friday and the launch of the holiday shopping season just days away, AARP Maine is releasing a new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.  The survey found that 63 percent of Maine consumers failed a quiz about how to stay safe from common holiday scams, and many are regularly engaging in behaviors which put them at risk of being victimized by con artists.

    A report, Beware the Grinch: Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays, details AARP’s polling of Maine residents regarding the most common holiday scams, including those related to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi.  The survey included seven questions about scams, with 63% of the survey participants answering four or fewer of the questions correctly.

    “While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts,” said Jane Margesson, AARP Maine Communications Director.  “We’re encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and popular scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season.”

    Prompted by the survey results, the Fraud Watch Network has launched an education campaign, including a new web page, designed to educate the public about the top five holiday scams:

    Charitable Giving? Ask and Check

    Last year, Americans gave $358 billion dollars to charity according to the National Philanthropic Trust.  Government officials who regulate charities and fundraisers say that while most charities are legitimate, there are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90 percent of the money they raise. 

    AARP’s survey found that 65 percent of Mainers who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 61 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.

    About one third of Maine consumers don’t know (16 percent) or aren’t sure (14 percent) that, in most states, professional fundraisers must be registered with the government and report how much they raise and how much goes to the charitable purpose.  Almost none (1 percent) could correctly name the government agency they should contact to verify the legitimacy of the charity or fundraiser (Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation).

    Gift Cards: Skip the Rack

    Fraud experts report that thieves sometimes hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time you try to use the same card, the money is long gone. 

    Fifty-one percent of respondents in the FWN survey report they will buy gift cards from a rack at a big box store, pharmacy or grocery store this holiday season.  Nearly four in ten (39 percent) do not realize that gift cards purchased from a gift card rack at a grocery store are NOT as safe from hackers or thieves as gift cards purchased online.

    Consider Swiping that Other Card

    Consumer protection experts recommend the use of credit cards rather than debit cards for most purchases, to better protect consumers from fraud and theft.  With credit cards, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. But in the case of a lost or stolen debit card, financial losses to the consumer can be much more significant. 

     Two thirds of Maine holiday shoppers surveyed said they will buy holiday gifts this year using a debit card.

    Public Wi-Fi: Surf Safely, or It Could Empty Your Account

    Many holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free Wi-Fi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.”  In fact, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products online. 

    The survey indicates that 54% of internet users in this survey say they will use free public Wi-Fi.  Many of them, while using public Wi-Fi, will make purchases (45%), access their bank accounts (27%), and check their credit card accounts (19%).

     

    Require a Package Delivery Sign Off

    More than 50 percent of holiday shoppers are unaware that package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages that are left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature.  Nearly half of Maine respondents said they ship packages and never require a signature. Seventy-eight percent say they receive home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”

    The FWN survey also asked participants if they have experienced a recent stressful life event, which fraud experts say can make it more difficult to spot and resist holiday scams.  More than 70 percent of consumers have experienced at least one life stress event in the past six months.

     Thanks to a new law, all Mainers can place a freeze on their credit report with all three major credit bureaus for free.  Because a credit freeze safeguards a person’s credit report, it is one of the most effective ways to protect consumers from identity theft.

    For information and detailed tips on how to avoid all manner of holiday scams, including those detailed above, visit AARP’s holiday fraud web page.  Consumers may also visit the Fraud Watch Networkto receive timely fraud alerts for their local area.

  • AARP Maine hosts “Fraud Watch Maine” workshop to train First Responders on scam awareness

    By Ramona du Houx

    In reaction to the proliferation of scams and frauds throughout the state, AARP Maine worked in collaboration with the Portland Police Department to host a half-day training workshop designed to heighten awareness among first responders. The workshops were packed with over 100 participants, including police officers, legislators, representatives from state agencies, senior centers, and others.

    “Our aging population is being taken advantage of by these scammers, and it's time we arm ourselves with the knowledge to stop this from happening,” said Lieutenant Glen McGary of the Portland Police Department.  “Working together with other departments in the state, and using effective presentations such as those we learned today at the AARP Maine workshop, we can broaden our reach in our own communities to mobilize Maine fraud fighters everywhere.”

     The state’s first Fraud Watch Maine: Mobilizing for Effective Scam Prevention training offered three field-tested presentations tackling several topics: The Con Artist Playbook and Commons Scams in Maine, Mail Fraud and Lottery Scams, and Cyber Security.

    “The goal of our workshop is to make each presentation easily replicable so that participants can deliver the same or slightly modified presentations in their own communities,” said Jane Margesson, Communications Director with AARP Maine, who ran the Con Artist Palybook presentation.  “With representatives in attendance today from many organizations, agencies, and law enforcement, we hope to broaden outreach efforts to effectively combat scams and fraud in our state.”  

    Every year, millions of Americans lose billions of dollars to scams and fraud.  As is the case in many states, identity theft tops of the list of crimes in Maine. 

     “All scams are designed for a single purpose -- to separate you from your money. It is vital that consumers know and trust the people to whom they are sending money because if it’s fraud, they will never see their money again,” said retired US Postal Inspector Michael Desrosiers 

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 500 reported cases of identity theft in the state in 2013.  Legislation designed to safeguard a person’s credit report through the placement of a credit freeze was enacted on October 15, 2015 and participants received information about this important proactive measure.  Because a credit freeze safeguards a person’s credit report, it is one of the most effective ways to protect consumers from identity theft. The bill was introduced by AARP Maine and sponsored by Senator Rod Whittemore.

     “As with many other crooks, cyber criminals are usually after the money,” said Professor Edward Sihler, Technical Director of the Maine Cyber Security Cluster, an organization sponsored by the University of Maine System.  “If they can't get use your credit card, maybe they can empty your bank account or file a false tax return.  Thus it is important to guard your passwords, account information and your identity.”

      AARP’s Fraud Watch Network (FWN), a national initiative, arms Americans with the tools they need to spot and avoid fraud and scams so they can protect themselves and their families.  Anyone, of any age, can access FWN resources at no cost.

    In Maine, AARP staff and volunteers regularly deliver scam awareness presentations and work in collaboration with the Maine Council on Aging, law enforcement, community leaders and other organizations to combat fraud and scams in the state. 

    In 2014, AARP Maine released a survey of Maine registered voters age 50 and older which included statistics concerning residents’ experiences with scams. According to the survey, four out of ten registered voters in Maine age 50 and older have encountered a fraud or scam or know someone else who has in the past five years.

    “Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money every year,” said Margesson.  “Through events like our scam prevention training, we can raise awareness about these crimes and work together to empower Mainers and their families as fraud fighters.” 

    Earlier this year, AARP Maine hosted a “Scam Jam” at the Augusta Civic center with over 300 Mainers in attendance. 

    On November 12th, AARP hosted a free shredding event in collaboration with the Farmington Police Department, and  Attorney General Janet Mills made an appearance.

      “Securely disposing of sensitive documents is a good way to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves,” said Margesson. 

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • AARP Maine, Avesta and Homeless Voices for Justice oppose Portland’s Question 2

     AARP Maine, Avesta Housing and Homeless Voices for Justice announced their opposition to Portland’s Question 2 during a press conference at an affordable housing project under construction on Munjoy Hill.

    “At a time when AARP Maine is working with Portland to ensure the city is a community for all ages to live, work and play, this proposal is very restrictive and would greatly impact housing options for older and middle-income Portlanders,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “As currently written, the referendum is also confusing and unclear to voters. AARP Maine urges Portland voters to Vote No on Portland Question 2.”

    AARP Maine is a nonprofit social mission organization working on behalf of 230,000 people 50 and older statewide.

    Avesta Housing is one of the largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing in New England and is consistently recognized nationally for groundbreaking work bringing together nonprofit, for-profit, private and public-sector organizations for the benefit of Maine communities. 

    “Last year more than 3,000 households sought an affordable home from Avesta, but we were only able to help about 300 because resources are so scarce,” said Dana Totman, President of Avesta Housing. “Now, in 2015, requests for our housing are up by another 25 percent overall and more than 45 percent among senior households. In the face of much needed affordable housing, our concern is that at least six of the affordable properties we have built in Portland in recent years, now housing more than 200 seniors and families, may never have happened if this proposed view referendum was in place. An additional hurdle to creating much needed affordable housing is a risk that people in need of affordable housing can’t afford.”

    Homeless Voices for Justice also announced its opposition to Question 2. The organization is led and organized by people who have struggled with homelessness and seeks to empower disenfranchised people.

    “There are nearly 500 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Portland – evidence of the housing crisis we face in this city,” said William Higgins, Advocate, Homeless Voices for Justice. “Any policy that has the potential to block affordable housing development poses a great risk to our most vulnerable community members. We simply can't afford to take that risk."

    “Portland’s Question 2 is poorly written and overly broad. It goes too far and will hurt every neighbor in our city, making it harder for people to afford to live, work and build their businesses here,” said Lisa Whited, co-chair of the No on Portland’s Question 2 campaign. “Our coalition continues to grow as more people realize that Portland’s Question 2 will hold our city back.”

    Other organizations that have announced opposition to Portland’s Question 2 include GrowSmart Maine, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, The Greater Portland Board of REALTORS®, Maine Commercial Association of REALTORS®, the Portland Society for Architecture and growing list of small businesses.

     

    In addition to the endorsement, AARP Maine and Avesta reminded voters that there will be two Question 2s on the ballot in Portland. The statewide Question 2 is a bond to support senior housing, which is supported by AARP Maine, Avesta Housing and Portland’s Future, the political action committee leading the No on 2 campaign in Portland. Portland Question 2 is the land use ordinance, which the groups oppose based upon its impacts on senior and affordable housing.

  • Law to improve well-being of older Mainers goes into effect Oct. 15

    Measure allows caregivers to have vital information 

     A law to help Maine seniors by allowing them to designate a caregiver who can access medical information important to their well-being goes into effect Oct. 15.

    The law, introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine, allows a patient admitted to a hospital to designate a caregiver whose contact information must be entered into the patient’s medical records and who must be able to participate, at the patient’s request, in discharge planning.

    “Many of us have helped care for the people we love, whether it’s cooking a meal, feeding a cat or helping out with laundry,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “When medical issues arise, the stakes are higher. Family caregivers play a critical role in making sure that a loved one’s transition home is successful. Given the right level of instruction, caregivers play a critical role in assuring that aftercare needs are met and healing can continue.”

    Under the law, if the patient or patient’s legal guardian provides written consent to release medical information to the designated caregiver, the hospital is required to notify the caregiver prior to the patient’s being discharged or transferred, consult with the caregiver as to the patient’s discharge plan and provide the caregiver any necessary instruction in providing aftercare to the patient if the patient is discharged to the patient’s residence.

    Family caregivers in Maine provided 165 million hours of care – worth an estimated $2.2 billion – to their parents, spouses, partners and other adult loved ones in 2013, according to AARP Public Policy Institute’s new report, Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update.

    “Effective caregivers also have the potential to save health care dollars by cutting down on readmissions,” said Gattine. “This law provides much-needed support to our seniors.”

    Rich Livingston, president of AARP Maine, testified in favor of the legislation at its public hearing in April. 

    “Almost half of family caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks for their loved ones with multiple chronic physical and cognitive conditions,” said Livingston. “Three out of four caregivers who provide these medical or nursing tasks manage medications, including administering intravenous fluids and injections. Yet most family caregivers report that they received little or no training to perform these tasks. Because there are simply not enough professional homecare workers, or resources to pay for them or pay them adequately, family caregivers are often the only way that many older Mainers are able to remain largely independent.”

    Gattine is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Westbrook.

  • Citizen’s Guide to the 2015 Maine Referendum Election available online

    As Election Day nears on Nov. 3, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is reminding all Maine voters of an informational resource that can help them make informed decisions at the polls: the 2015 Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

    The guide, prepared by the Department of the Secretary of State in collaboration with the attorney general, state treasurer and Office of Fiscal and Program review, is an unbiased and non-partisan review of the issues that voters will consider at the polls this November.

    The Citizens Guide provides detailed information about each question on the November ballot, said Dunlap. Voters can see the proposed legislation behind this year’s citizen-initiated question and state bond proposals, as well as analysis of the intent and content of each question. Election law also allows for citizen advocacy statements to be published supporting or opposing questions, which provides voters with those viewpoints to consider.

    The November 2015 ballot will include one citizen’s initiative question and two bond issues: 

    Question 1 is a citizen’s initiative "An Act To Strengthen the Maine Clean Election Act, Improve Disclosure and Make Other Changes to the Campaign Finance Laws."

    Question 2 is “An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support the Independence of Maine's Seniors.”

    Question 3 is “An Act To Authorize Two General Fund Bond Issues To Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities.” 

    The Citizens Guide is intended to provide as much information as possible on these complex issues so that voters have the opportunity to educate themselves on the issues. Maine voters are among the most actively engaged in the nation, and were pleased to be able to help them make informed choices, Dunlap said.

    Voters can request absentee ballots online via the Secretary of State’s website, in person, by calling their town clerk, or in writing.

  • Speaker Eves’ Keep ME Home plan for seniors to age with dignity and proper care in their communities

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine is the oldest state in the nation. One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to U.S. census projections. The rapid aging of Maine’s population and workforce has significant implications for economic growth and is challenging employers, health systems, municipalities and state leaders to find ways to attract and retain workers, create new housing options, and to deliver services to enable seniors to remain healthy and able to live in their own homes.

    Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves and the Maine Council on Aging (MCOA) are engaged in a collaborative initiative to help seniors with these issues.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves talking about his KeepME program. Photo credit MPBN

    “I was very compelled to put a focus on these issues. It’s gratifying to be engaged in this initiative and to be able to lead it, as Speaker, with an incredible group of people from The Maine Council on Ageing,” said Eves.

    They started with Round Table meetings in 2013 where more than 500 community, business, finance, education and policy leaders discussed the issues in depth.  “We had a great cross-section of society represented at the four meetings. We also went to Washington D.C. and met with the Congressional Delegation, and will be returning to attend the White House Summit on Ageing.”

    On January 17, 2014, the Maine Summit on Aging attracted nearly 400 participants from around Maine who added to a conversation and planning process that formed the basis for the Maine Aging Initiative. That led to the Speaker’s KeepME Home plan.

    “At the summit we changed the conversation from this is a real challenge to this is a great opportunity for the state to lead,” said Eves. “We are the oldest state. We need to embrace it. We need to show the way.”

    MCOA is a group made up of 30 different organizations focused on aging issues in our state, one of them is AARP and they held a telephone town hall.

    “12,000 people called in from all over the state, and heard Sen. Burns and myself talk about the initiative. They were engaged and we answered a lot of questions,” said Eves. “It was incredible.”

    The Speaker also convened a Legislative Caucus highlighting the priorities generated from all the meetings. At every step of the way the Speaker has ensured the initiative received bi-partisan support, working with Republican Sen. Burns and others. Aging has no political bias.

    The Speaker’s KeepME Home plan has bills under consideration that would:

    1. Boost pay for in-home care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade;
    2. Expand property tax credits for seniors;
    3. Create affordable housing for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties through a $65 million housing bond.

     

    Step 1: Boosting homecare workers pay to meet a crisis—

     

    When family caregivers are not available to provide all the necessary assistance for seniors paid home care workers fill the gap.

    In Maine nine out of 10 people want to age at home, rather than move to a nursing home. But there is a shortage of homecare workers and part of the reason why is due to the low wages that have forced many into poverty.

    “Raising the profile around the crises that is happening in our direct care workforce is important. If we don’t do something about it now—It’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” said Eves. “We are doing right by our seniors and those who care for them. The need is dramatic. A stronger direct care workforce will make it possible for more seniors to stay in their homes, and remain independent.”

    Maine’s reimbursement rate for home and personal care services has been stuck at about $15 an hour since 2006, when the Baldaccci administration and lawmakers increased it. Home care agencies pay their workers about $9 an hour, and the remaining $6 an hour covers a variety of administrative, operational and training costs.

    “It’s hard to retain people if they aren’t earning a decent salary. It’s difficult, emotional work. Some are live-in workers. They are always on call and need special training,” said Eves. “The increase of wages should help retain good workers; otherwise you have a revolving door and end up with workers who don’t have enough experience to do a quality job.”

    Home care workers earn a little over $20,000 a year, on average, according to the Maine Department of Labor. But most of them have to provide their own transportation to and from clients’ homes, no matter the distance, so their real pay is a considerably less.

    Eves's bill calls for the rate to be raised to $25/hour. The bill requires that at least 85 percent of the increase "must be used for wages and employee benefits including health care, mileage reimbursement, training costs and other benefits."

    Increasing homecare workers pay is more cost effective than the nursing home option. MaineCare spent an average of $558 per month for each client who received personal care services at home in 2010, compared with $4,150 per month for each nursing home resident during the same year, according to a 2012 analysis by the Muskie School of Public Service.

    Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, a homecare worker from Westbrook, said at the public hearing that she loved caring for her clients, but the pay is not enough to support her family. Manirakiza cares for an 80-year-old woman who needs help with bathing, dressing, toileting, making meals, managing medications, and running errands.

    “I have been working as a home care worker for the last seven years.  I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills,” said Manirakiza. She receives no employee benefits, gets health insurance through MaineCare and has to live in subsidized housing. “We do delicate, important, often difficult work. I care about people. But this job doesn’t pay enough.”

    Manirakiza is one of more than 10,000 home health and personal care workers in Maine who need a pay raise.

    Eves worked on the proposal with House Minority Leader Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who introduced a similar bill.

    “We have a significant number of seniors living here in Maine and many of them want to stay in their homes,” said Espling. “These bills ensure that services are available to our seniors so families have the support they need to continue to care for their loved ones in the comfort of their homes.”

    The amended bill, LD 1350, combines both proposals from Eves and Espling. It would increase reimbursement rates to providers of in-home direct-care services by 66 percent to nearly $25 per hour.

    During a public hearing on the proposal, in-home care workers and the seniors they care for urged support for the pay boost.

    “I have a wonderful homecare worker that helps me a few times a week.  This is what keeps me in my beloved home and gives me my independence,” said Ray Polley, a senior from Wales.  “If I had to move out there would be a part of me that wouldn’t be there anymore.”

    DHHS agrees that there is a need to increase the pay for direct care workers to attract and keep dedicated employees.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves in his office at the State House in Augusta. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Homecare workers are a growing job sector in Maine—

     

    Homecare workers make up the fastest growing occupation in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2010 and 2020 the demand for personal care aides will increase 71 percent and will produce more than 600,000 new jobs nationally.

    In Maine, the overall job growth between 2008 and 2018 is projected to be just 2 percent, yet for personal care aides, it’s projected at 26 percent.

    “If we ignore the poor working conditions that cause care providers to be distracted and stressed due to their financial insecurity, we are compromising the care that people receive. Current staffing shortages and increased demand means that we need to do something now to attract and retain quality employees,” said Ted Rippy, a home care worker and board member of Food AND Medicine.

    Annual turnover rates for homecare workers range between 25 and 50 percent depending upon the agency. This causes concerns for home care agencies and directly affects their clients.

    SeniorsPlus, a Lewiston-based agency needs more workers to provide home care services for 471 clients, said Betsy Sawyer-Manter, executive director. “We have many people who have been approved for services but are going without because there aren’t enough people to do the work.” SeniorsPlus is a member of the MCOA.

    John Wiley lives at home in Waterville and wonders about the future. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In 2013 Sandy Butler, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Maine, completed overseeing a study on the job experiences of home care workers in Maine. The study followed a group of 261 personal support specialists for 18 months who were working for agencies serving all 16 counties of the state. More than a third of these workers quit their jobs during this time.

    Butler wrote in the Bangor Daily News that the leading reason they left, “was the inability to support themselves and their families given the low wages and the instability and part-time nature of the hours. Related compensation issues included lack of mileage reimbursement, paid sick time and paid vacations.”

    Another heartbreaking reality the study showed was that the workers who left didn’t want to for they loved their profession.

    “They enjoyed working with elders, believed — like most of us do — that it was important to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible, had high levels of job satisfaction, and generally would have chosen to continue in the field if the compensation had been better,” said Butler.

    “We hear about a worker shortage, but what we have is a wage shortage,” said Christine Gianopoulos, board chairwoman of Home Care for Maine Inc.

     

    Step 2: Increasing property tax relief for seniors—

     

    According to the state’s Revenue Services website, “nearly 200,000 Maine households qualify for a partial refund of property tax assessed and/or rent they paid in 2011.”  Maine population is around 1, 330,000 people.

    Low-income households have a high burden of property taxes, compared with higher income households making the property tax Maine’s most regressive tax. For seniors living on fixed incomes property tax increase can be incredibly debilitating and have forced many to choose between paying for medications and food or saving for their property tax bill.

    “We’re trying to increase the Circuit Breaker Program back to the level it had been, with the maximum $2,000 rebate for seniors and $1,500 for non seniors,” said Eves.

    The Speakers bill, L.D. 1095, would increase the maximum property-tax credit allowed for qualified residents age 65 and older from $900 to $2,000 per year.

    In 2013 Gov. LePage created a new  ”Property Tax Fairness Credit” to replace the state’s Circuit Breaker Program. The credit is refundable and is implemented through the state’s income tax rather than as a separate rebate. But the maximum value of the new credit is significantly less than the Circuit Breaker rebates were.

    In April, 2014, the legislature doubled the Property Tax Fairness Credit to a maximum of  $600, or $900 for those 70 or older.

    “About one in three of the lower income households pay more than 10 percent of their income in property taxes. Less than one in fifty of the higher income households pay more than 10 percent of their income in property taxes. Thus the overall burden of property taxes is highly skewed by income,” wrote economists of Maine Center of Economic Policy in a report.

     

    Step 3: Create a $65 million affordable housing bond—

     

    According to a recent study from a Massachusetts consulting firm, contracted by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, the shortage of affordable housing units by 2022 would grow to 15,000. The calculation is based on the number of people over the age of 55 spending greater than 30 percent of their income on housing.

     Sponsored by House Speaker Eves and Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, L.D. 1205 would start to fill the current need for subsidized senior housing with a $65 million bond to build about 1,000 new units in 40 buildings across the state, as well as fund improvements to existing homes to help seniors age in place.

    “We would have projects in all 16 counties that would be managed through Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA). Making sure that all counties are included is a very important piece of the language in the bond. “Still, it’s just starting to meet the incredible need out there with 9,000 seniors on the waiting list now—in a few years that’ll be 15,000.”

    The scarcity of affordable senior housing is huge. There are builders using public subsidies and tax programs to try and meet the need but they are barely scraping the barrel.

    “Basically our housing has not kept up with our longevity,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “And as the population ages, those who live on fixed incomes — like Social Security — spend more of that income on their mortgage, rent or repairs. In some cases, their homes are simply too big for them, or they’re too costly to heat in the winter.”

    According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, “low-income households aged 65 and over rely on Social Security payments for 85 percent of their incomes.”

    Currently there is a booming demand for market-rate apartments, which fetch higher rents and attract more developers.

    The kinds of apartments that the state needs for seniors most likely won’t get built without state bonds and federal help. A federal low-income housing tax credit subsidy helps to build about 90 percent of all affordable housing in the U.S. by giving tax breaks to banks or other entities that provide the investment.

    A developer applies to MSHA for one of two types of credits. Once approved by MSHA, the developer then sells that credit to a bank or other firm that can write off a percentage of the investment over the following decade. MSHA then finds other subsidies to pay the remainder, or gives the developer a loan. The federal government only allocates MSHA about $2.6 to $3 million each year in these tax credits. In 2014, MSHA was only able to approve five out of 14 proposals. Thus making the need for the bonds all that much more.

    “The decision was motivated by the fact we’ve been all over the state having community conversations with seniors finding out what they would like and what they need. We’ve found if they couldn’t stay in their immediate home they want to stay in their community,” said Eves. “We want to make sure these units are built in a way that connects the residents with the fabric of their community.  Making sure seniors have access to downtowns so they can shop and go to restaurants as well as being able to access services as they age.”

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves in his office at the State House in Augusta. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    But Governor Paul LePage has never been forthright in backing bonds and has help voter approved bonds hostage until he has gotten what he demanded from lawmakers.

    “I would hope that we could agree on the incredible need. It would be a lost opportunity if we didn’t take leadership on this issue. We can’t wait any longer. We need to start building. People across the state immediately understand the problem. It’s personal for everybody.”

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