Today is Grandparents Day. It is a good time to thank our parents and grandparents for all they do for us.

It is also a good time to reflect on how care for senior citizens can be improved.

Maine has the largest percentage of elderly people in the nation. Each day, 50 people turn 65. In just 15 years, one in four Mainers will be older than 65.

The aging challenges Maine faces are significant and personal for all residents. Whether you are a parent with an aging family member or a grandparent struggling to stay in the home or community where you raised your family, so many Mainers are personally affected.

My father served as a pastor in the military and my mother was a school teacher. They taught me, my brothers and sister the value of giving back to our community. These are the very values my wife Laura and I have tried to instill in our own children.

Like so many Maine seniors, my parents like living in their home, but each year it gets more difficult. 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 or nursing homes. Some are forced to choose between putting food on the table or paying for medicine.


I believe that most Maine seniors want to age in their homes and communities, where they can live independently with dignity. As I have traveled across the state, I have heard the same message from older adults and their families: the financial struggles they face are making it more and more difficult to have a secure retirement.

I heard first hand from older adults such as Lee Picker, 75, of Sabattus, who volunteers as a senior companion at Clover Health Care in Auburn. She and the seniors she helps on a daily basis are struggling with rising property taxes, unaffordable housing and access to direct in-home care.

Picker’s story and the hundreds of others we have heard have been the driving force behind the Legislature’s effort to help seniors age independently. Independence not only helps older adults, it also reduces what the state pays for expensive nursing-home care.

When the Legislature first convened in January, lawmakers came together to prioritize the issues of older adults and address the challenges related to aging.

Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, and I formed a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to collaborate on aging issues. I introduced a package of bills called the “Keep ME Home” initiative to help older adults age in place.

I am proud to report that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were able to come together to pass new laws to help seniors and families, including:


• We doubled property tax relief for seniors;

• We passed an affordable senior housing bond to build energy efficient apartments for seniors across the state;

• We stepped up reimbursement rates by $4 million for workers who provide direct care to seniors;

• We provided tax credits for caregivers;

• We stepped up efforts to protect seniors from financial fraud;

• And we stopped cuts to funding that help low-income seniors pay for medicine.


While we accomplished a lot for Maine seniors and those who care for them, more work needs to be done.

Voters must still approve the $15 million housing bond in November. The bond will help address a shortage of housing for seniors.

Right now there are 9,000 seniors on a wait list for affordable housing. The bond will help build new, energy-efficient housing across the state in both rural and urban areas. It’s a big win for seniors and for their communities.

Next year, when lawmakers come back to Augusta, we will also have to further increase funding for direct-care workers who have seen their pay frozen or cut for nearly a decade.

If we want a qualified workforce to care for senior citizens, we need to make sure workers can make a fair wage. Many direct care workers are barely surviving on $20,000 per year.

We need to do right, not just by senior citizens, but by those who care for them as well.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we made good progress this past year and there is much to celebrate on this Grandparents Day.

Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is Speaker of the Maine House.

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