We are grateful for our seniors. Their hard work built our state, made our communities vibrant and lifted up younger generations. They are our friends and neighbors, our parents and grandparents.

They deserve to age with dignity. For seniors, being able to stay in their homes and in their communities is an important part of that.

It’s becoming increasingly important for Maine to help seniors maintain their independence, health and place in their communities. Our state is the oldest in the nation, with a quarter of Mainers expected to be 65 or older by the year 2030.

Whether we’re talking about firefighters or farmers, merchants or mill workers, teachers or truck drivers, Mainers who have worked hard all their lives should be able to expect a secure retirement. Unfortunately, for too many Mainers this isn’t the reality.

The good news is that we have an opportunity to take action.

The recently unveiled KeepME Home initiative will help older Mainers age in place. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, developed the three-part proposal with the Maine Coalition on Aging after a series of round table discussions that culminated in a summit about aging issues earlier this year.

KeepME Home includes a plan for a $65 million general obligation bond to develop 1,000 energy-efficient apartments for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties.

Maine has the oldest housing stock in the nation. It can be difficult for retirees on fixed incomes to afford the higher maintenance and heating costs of these older homes. We know that the limitations of our current housing stock put aging Mainers at risk of isolation. Thousands of our seniors are on waiting lists for affordable housing.

Rising property taxes are also a challenge for seniors on fixed incomes. Earlier this year, we supported legislation that strengthened the Property Tax Fairness Credit for seniors and low- and middle-income families. The KeepME Home initiative takes another step forward by increasing the maximum refund available to eligible seniors. We need to make sure that seniors who have worked hard their whole lives aren’t faced with choosing between paying a property tax bill, buying groceries or having heat in the winter.

It’s also important for seniors to maintain their social connections and have access to medical care and other services they need.

KeepME Home also addresses the growing need for in-home care by providing a much-needed boost in Medicaid reimbursement rates. Home care agencies are already struggling to keep direct care workers, with pay as little as $9 per hour. We need to invest in the direct care workforce to protect the quality of life of seniors who need these services.

In-home care services include delivering meals, helping with household tasks, taking vital signs and otherwise monitoring signs of health. They can detect health issues that could otherwise lead to emergency department visits and hospitalizations. They help seniors remain independent, safe and healthy.

We know these ideas are resonating.

Recently, 2,000 Mainers dialed into a “tele-town hall” about the KeepME Home initiative. Seniors, family caregivers and in-home care workers were among the callers. Participants heard about the struggles of making ends meet in a job with low wages and no benefits, the uncertainty seniors feel about their retirement years and family members worried about their aging loved ones.

We hear these kinds of concerns from our constituents as well. We want seniors and their family members to be able to worry less about what the future holds for them. Mainers should be able to look forward to security in retirement, for themselves and their loved ones.

It’s up to the next Legislature to set the needs of Maine’s seniors as a priority. KeepME Home proposes great solutions to prevent our demographic trends from causing unnecessary hardship. Let’s ensure Mainers a secure future by making smart decisions today.

Reps. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, serves on the State and Local Government Committee, and Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, serves on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Both are first-term lawmakers in the Maine House of Representatives.

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