Categorized | Pushback

The Next Step In Maine’s Universal Home Care Campaign

elder elderly caregiver caregiving

The arguments against Questions 1 were predominately about taxes, not elder home care. The head of the Maine Republican Party said.

By Al Norman

On Nov. 6, voters in Maine were asked this question on their ballot:

“Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8 percent  tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?”

A total of 365,450 voters (62.7 percent ) said No, 217,693 voters (37.2 percent ) said Yes. The ballot question was beaten decisively. This was a surprise defeat for two reasons: 1) the group supporting universal home care raised more money ($1,877,985) than the group opposed ($1,065,420). 64 percent  of the dollars raised were for a YES vote, yet the question lost. 2) An August poll of 500 registered Maine voters conducted by Suffolk University in Boston found 51 percent  in favor of the measure, with 34 percent  opposed and 14 percent  undecided.

Part of the problem was that the full text of the ballot question was nearly 4,800 words long, and the initiative itself depended on imposing a new tax—which is always a hard climb. The Summary of the petition was only 84 words—but the words “new tax” gave opponents all the ammunition they needed:

‘SUMMARY: This initiated bill establishes the Universal Home Care Program to provide in-home and community support services for all people with disabilities living in Maine who require assistance with an activity of daily living and people 65 years of age or older who are living in Maine and who require assistance with an activity of daily living, without regard to income, to be funded by a new tax of 3.8 percent  on income and wages that exceed the maximum wages subject to social security employment taxes.

The arguments against Questions 1 were predominately about taxes, not elder home care. The head of the Maine Republican Party said:  “It’s a horrible idea to continue trying to raise taxes to pay for these things because it’s making Maine a more and more hostile environment for professionals and businesses.” The president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce added: “The impact of yet another proposed surtax on individuals and businesses … will make it harder for Maine to do business, compete and grow our economy.”

The largest donor in favor of the home care measure was the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which gave $300,000, and the Omidyar Network,  a philanthropic investment firmestablished by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife. 12 days before the election, Omidyar called Question 1 a “bold new state level experiment … Question 1 would enable Maine to fund better careers for caregivers – to finally make care jobs truly good jobs. The initiative would require health care agencies to spend the majority of their funds on improved wages, benefits, and working conditions for home care workers.”

The largest donors against Question 1 were the Maine Association of Realtors, which gave $100,000. The Maine Hospital Association,(MHA) and the Maine Real Estate Info. System which each gave $50,000. The Maine Health Care Association (MHCA), which lobbies on behalf of the state’s nursing homes, played a leading role in opposing Question 1. All of these groups tried hard to talk about taxes, not home care.

Question 1 would have raised $180 million a year, either to pay families for the care they provide, or to help them buy affordable care and not have to quit their current jobs. Maine needs a solution: the percentage of Americans age 65 and over is around 16 percent , while Maine is 20 percent . By 2032, the elder percentage in Maine will hit 29 percent . Home care costs in Maine are $60,000 a year or more. A study by the Muskie School of Public Service estimates that more than 21,000 Mainers are currently going without needed home care services. The failure of Question 1 has highlighted the need for this battle to continue.

Ben Chin, one of the leaders of the Yes on 1 campaign, has suggested the next step: “We take politicians across the state at their words that they are now committed to taking real action. We’ll be turning our full attention to the legislature to make sure that they do.” Seniors should expect the Maine Hospital Association to be front and center in that effort. “We believe the Legislature is well suited to review the issue of long-term care,” the MHA has said, “and craft solutions that build on what’s working in Maine.”

“If people feel it’s important,” the Maine Republicans have said, “we should find a way to support this in the state budget.” As the Omidyar Network noted: “Regardless of the outcome, what Maine is doing will inspire other states to think about this important question and consider policy innovations of their own.”

It’s time for the legislature in Maine — and in other states — to step up their game and give elders and the disabled an accessible and affordable universal home care program.

Al Norman served as the head of a statewide elder support network in Massachusetts for 32 years. He can be reached at: alnormaneldercare@gmail.com

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