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Maine Voters Reject Universal Home Care Initiative

Patty Wight
Maine Public
Mainers For Homecare after the polls closed Tuesday night

Maine voters have rejected a proposal to create a universal home care program, 63 percent to 37 percent. The proposal would have provided free, in-home care to seniors over age 65 and people with disabilities by charging a tax on higher earning households. Opponents argued that the proposal and its funding mechanism were flawed, but supporters vow to continue the battle to bring universal home care to Maine.  After the polls closed Tuesday, the results for Question 1 trickled in. But from the start, support seemed to be lagging. Around 11:00 p.m., the campaign manager of Mainers for Homecare, Ben Chin, gathered supporters in Portland to assure them that no matter the outcome, they should be proud that they offered a good-faith solution to a problem.

"And if for some reason this does not prevail tonight, we are just going to count this as phase one of this campaign," Chin said. "Because Maine is still the oldest state in the country. There are still too many seniors and people with disabilities threatened to be forced out of their home because care is too expensive." 

Question 1 would have created a first-of-its kind program to provide free, universal care to seniors and people with disabilities. It was also designed to boost training and pay for direct care workers. 

The funding would have come from a 3.8 percent tax on adjusted gross incomes above $128,400. Supporters viewed the tax as a way to ensure wealthy Mainers pay their fair share. 

But Ben Gilman, campaign manager for No On Question 1, says the tax likely played a large role in the initiative's demise, not only because it targeted higher income earners, but because, says Gilman, as written, it would have affected both individuals and families with incomes above $128,400. 

"I think the tax issue was a big piece of it. But also —the Home Care and Hospice and Alliance of Maine, the Maine Association of Community Service Providers, came together to oppose it because anyone in this country who wanted to write a universal home care proposal, this would not have been the proposal they wrote." 

Gilman says the proposal was flawed because it didn't have residency or income requirements, violated patient privacy, and it would have established a board outside of state government to manage the program. 

He also thinks voters have developed fatigue with referendums. "I think, as a state, we need to look at that process."

Gilman says the Legislature should consider whether referendums should even be allowed to include tax policy. Supporters of Universal Home Care, meanwhile, are also looking to the Legislature to continue their momentum, and, says direct care worker LeighAnn Gillis, to put Maine in the vanguard of this important issue.

"This is the moment where we exemplify 'Dirigo' and continue leading the fight for universal home care."

It's not clear what form that effort will take, or how it might be funded.