Maine People’s Alliance campaign turns pending problem into opportunity

I had a great conversation with Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) a couple weeks ago, and I owe him an apology for the delay in posting about our talk.

I appreciated him reaching out to me to explain the organization’s latest referendum drive, which seeks to make in-home and community care available to all seniors in Maine, regardless of means. The comprehensive proposal also seeks to raise compensation and standards for in home care and would be the first of its kind in the nation.

I like the idea of turning a pending problem into opportunities to preserve the dignities of our neighbors and opportunities for jobs and job training. Both will make for stronger, healthier communities. Tipping said pieces of the idea were being implemented in Washington, but not universally throughout the state.

I appreciated Tipping reaching out to me for a couple reasons.

First it showed a little hutzpah after we got into a heated email exchange following my take on the tipped wage issue earlier this year.  To his credit Tipping withstood my repeated refusal to change my mind, and this refusal became sharper and sharper with each exchange.  

Circumstance had my patience jar was running a little empty at the time.

Second, the idea of supporting seniors aging in place is critical to me and to our state. As much as I’m struggling with the concept of middle-age, I do understand senior-hood is a lot closer than it used to be.

Like me, Maine’s population’s population isn’t getting any younger. As Tipping observed, Maine is on the edge of “a senior care crisis” because “the number of Mainers over 65 is expected to double by 2030.” With the “median cost of in home care over $50,000” and even higher costs for nursing home care, Maine families face hard choices as loved ones age.

This universal in home and community care campaign seeks to make the choice easy, for every singe Mainer with a care need. Like a dear friend of my family’s who recently moved out of her home, somewhat against her wishes. Her family thought “it was best” if she wasn’t managing her house all by herself and placed her in a senior housing community.

Since none of her children lived close by, she decided to acquiesce rather than be a source of stress or worry to them. The other day she told me she still gets teary every time she drives by her old house. She and her husband lived there for decades until his death a couple years ago.

She said moving out felt like closing the door on her whole life before she was ready. I told her I get sad for her driving by her house, too. Then I told her about this referendum drive and that I was thinking about blogging about it. She reached out to give my hand a big squeeze and said, “Please do.”

So I am.

But there’s one minor glitch, which, as I told Tipping, there usually is when it comes to my perceptions of MPA’s efforts. While I tend to agree with their ideas in principle, I tend to struggle with their details.

The MPA is right to highlight the fact that Maine needs to come to terms with its pending senior care crisis. Our still raging addiction epidemic is a flaming example of what happens when we ignore problems as they fester

However, I worry the funding mechanism chosen by the MPA may cost them some support down the road should they garner the over 60,000 signatures needed over the next several weeks to get on the ballot. The MPA proposes a 1.9 percent tax increase on employees and employers on income over $127,000 along with a 3.8 percent tax increase on non-wage income over that threshold.

The MPA estimates the increases will garner $132 million, enough to fund universal in home care access. Tipping referred to the mechanism as a partial closing of the Social Security tax loophole, meaning that federal social security tax only applies to income below the $127,000.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are untapped funding sources out there. Like I think any earnings over $300,000 are fair game for tax increases. If you’re earning that much AND living in this most awesome state in the nation, I would think you’d be grateful to pay a little more in hopes of making communities stronger.

I know I’ve been raising kids in Maine on considerably less for a couple decades now.

Further, I have no clue why we don’t increase our sales tax during summer months to capitalize on tourist traffic. Mainers are smart enough to plan large purchases around the summer months.

There are small business owners, though, who fall into that $127,000-$300,000 bracket. If they’re constantly reinvesting in their businesses and employees, they are afforded a decent, but rapidly disappearing middle-class lifestyle, the luckiest of them touching on the upper-middle class.

We can’t make our communities stronger by compromising those employers — in communities hardest hit by the disappearance of manufacturing, they’re all that’s holding down the economic fort.

All in all, I hope Mainers weigh any reservations about the funding of this proposal against the gravity of our pending senior care crisis. I wholeheartedly support the idea, but I do so hoping legislators would find a better funding mechanism should the proposal get that far.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.