Currently showing posts tagged Seniors in Maine

  • LePage needs to release voter-approved bonds for senior housing

    Last week, the Maine State Housing Authority Board of Directors wrote a letter to Gov. Paul LePage, asking for guidance on when and if he would release voter-approved bonds for affordable senior housing passed by voters.

    “Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds,” Maine State Housing Authority Chairman Peter Anastos said.

    The seniors who would have received a safe, warm home and the 70 percent of voters who supported the bonds deserve an answer.

    With rising property taxes, high heating costs and big health care needs, many seniors are forced to give up their homes and move into assisted living facilities, nursing homes or into the homes of adult children or other relatives, who may be struggling to make ends meet themselves.

    And, while we’re already aware our seniors and our families need help, a new series of studies unearth alarming ways in which we’re falling behind.

    nationwide study by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire found that 40 percent of Maine’s seniors are low income or living in poverty, a percentage higher than our neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont.

    This is not the only study that reveals concerning trends for Maine. A recent government survey shows roughly 16 percent of Maine households don’t know where their next meal is coming from, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

    Compounding these problems is a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low-income older adults, which will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by Abt Associates.

    Our seniors face poverty, hunger and constantly rising costs in housing, transportation and food.

    They deserve better. Maine can do better.

    LePage’s 2015 budget attempted to slash funding for the Drugs for the Elderly program that helps 35,000 seniors pay for lifesaving medications.

    In addition, after legislative leaders, including me, crafted the Keep ME Home plan to help support our seniors and their independence, the governor vetoed a number of the bills passed, including important efforts to protect seniors from financial fraud and support caregivers to participate in the health care planning for their loved ones.

    Luckily, legislators came together to override these vetoes, and voters overwhelmingly endorsed our actions with the passage of our affordable senior housing bond at the polls in November.

    Despite the clear and broad support of the Legislature and Maine people, the governor has yet to release these funds. We hope the governor will stick to his word to support the elderly by releasing the bonds, which will help more Maine seniors live in their communities independently.

    Pope Francis once said, “a population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future because it abuses both its memory and its promise.”

    While we have made some progress, there is more to be done. Lawmakers have before us meaningful opportunities to help Maine’s seniors supported by both parties in this legislative session.

    Legislators will continue to work on other proposals to help seniors stay in their homes — including increases in wages for direct care workers, funding the Home Weatherization and Repair for Seniors Home Fund and increasing access to transportation services for homebound seniors.

    These proposals and the pending $15 million in affordable housing bonds awaiting release by LePage are common-sense measures that continue our work supporting seniors in our state.

    It is time for all of Maine’s leaders, including LePage, to work together and start honoring Maine’s promise to its seniors and families.

    First published in the Bangor Daily News

  • DOE grant for Algae Foundation work at USM

    On October 2, 2015, the US Department of Energy  (DOE) awarded a multi-year, $1.5 million grant to the Algae Foundation, to develop a college degree in algal cultivation technologies as well as an aquaculture extension training program. The work will be conducted at the University of Southern Maine.

    The Algae Foundation has formed the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC), a partnership between academic institutions, national research laboratories, and industry leaders. The Consortium will develop novel educational programs to strengthen industry workforce capabilities.

    The Algae Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the algae industry. Its leader, Dr. Ike Levine, teaches at the University of Southern Maine in Lewiston.

  • 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 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. 

  • 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.

  • Maine's Jackson Lab to recieve $800K for research on aging

    Maine's Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor has received a $835,037 federal grant to support its continuing research on the aging process. The laboratory is reknowned for genitic reserach with mice. They also ship mice worldwide to other scientific institutions.

    This award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support Jackson Lab's Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, which combines the practices of biology and genomics to develop a better understanding of how aging works.

    The Center is located in a building a voter-approved bond issued helped to support during the Baldacci administration. LePage has not even considered putting research and development bonds out to voters. Meanwhile Jackson Laboratory and others help strengthen Maine's economy and quality of life.

    Maine has the oldest population in America.

    "The work done by Jackson Laboratory has significantly expanded our knowledge of human genetics," Sen. Collins and Sen. King said in a joint statement. "As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, it is vital that we continue to expand our knowledge of the aging process."

  • Speaker's bipartisan $15 million senior housing bond heads to ballot


     Maine people will have an opportunity to vote on a $15 million housing bond to build affordable senior housing across the state. LePage missed his opportunity to veto it, as he had promised to do.

    The bond heads to the ballot this November because Gov. Paul LePage had a 10 day period afforded to him under the Maine Constitution where he could have vetoed the bill or signed it as law.

    “The bond will address a dire need for affordable senior housing across our state,” said House Speaker Eves, D-North Berwick, who sponsored the bipartisan proposal. “It will also help create good housing and construction jobs. It's a win for seniors and our economy.”

     Speaker Eves proposed the bond as part of his “Keep ME Home” plan to help seniors live independently in their homes and communities.   

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older people, 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. The state also has the oldest population and the 8th oldest housing stock in the nation.

    The bond measure was among the fifty-one bills passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor on June 30. According to the constitution, the governor has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign or veto a bill. If he does not take either of those actions, the bill becomes law if the Legislature has not finally adjourned. For these 51 bills, the window closed on Saturday. The Office of the Revisor will chapter them today.

    The governor incorrectly asserted that the bills will not become law, despite the clarity provided by the Maine Constitution, precedent and an opinion issued July 10th, by Attorney General Janet Mills. The governor’s argument is based on an illogical claim that the Legislature is finally adjourned, which would mean that the clock for the 10-day window has stopped.

    The Legislature’s first regular session remains under way, as evidenced by its plans to return Thursday to take up the remainder of its work, including vetoes issued in accordance with the Maine Constitution.

  • Maine House unanimously votes for measure to boost pay for direct care workers

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine House on June 13, 2015 gave final approval to a bipartisan measure to increase pay for in-home care workers by unanimous consent. The vote proved that Maine lawmakers can still work together for the health and well being of the state's citizens.

    “Lawmakers came together to do right by our seniors and those who care for them,” said bill sponsor House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “A stronger direct care workforce will also make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes and remain independent. ”

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

    The proposal to raise pay for direct care workers is one of the key components of Speaker Eves’ Keep ME Home initiative to help older adults in Maine live independently longer.

    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 who receives in-home care every week in order to stay in his home.  “If I had to move out there would be a part of me that wouldn’t be there anymore.”

    Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, a homecare worker from Westbrook, said she loved caring for her clients, but the pay is not enough to support her family.

    “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.

    The measure faces further votes in the Senate.

  • 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.”