While political fights may get all the news headlines, in the Legislature there are often issues that unite us regardless of party affiliation because they’re just so important. The worsening crisis in Maine home and community-based services and intellectual and developmental disabilities services and autism is one of those issues. It’s why we, a Democrat from Belfast and a Republican from New Gloucester, have come together in support of legislation to finish the work we’ve done to address the root causes.

Our bills — L.D. 967 and L.D. 643 — would finish our successful efforts from last session to fix stagnant reimbursement rates that are crippling providers of services for Maine seniors and those living with intellectual or developmental disabilities and autism.

Home- and community-based services help Mainers age safely and independently in place. Prior to our work last session, reimbursement rates for personal care services under sections 19 and 96 of MaineCare and under Section 63 of the state-funded home care program had not been increased since 2005.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism rely on direct support professionals to provide the services they need every day to live safely in their communities. This includes helping people do everything from shopping and cooking a meal to using the bathroom and properly maintaining feeding tubes.

Before L.D. 967 was partially funded last year, intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism services, provided in sections 21 and 29 of MaineCare, had been slashed by more than 30 percent since 2007.

These low reimbursement rates led to staffing shortages across the state as workers left for less stressful and more lucrative entry-level retail positions. That in turn meant social service agencies were unable to fill job openings, leaving them unable to deliver services to people who need them.

In the 127th Legislature, Democrats and Republicans worked together to address Maine’s stagnant reimbursement rates for home-based health care, and, as a result, directed the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a rate study to determine whether or not an increase in rates was warranted.

By the end of the legislative session, we succeeded in funding half of the study’s recommended rate increase for home-based health care services.

In the 128th legislative session, we also made significant progress on undoing the damaging rate cuts to intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism services, but there is still more work to be done.

L.D. 967, which restored rates to 2007 levels and included adjustments for inflation, empowered service providers to offer a wage that allowed them to compete for and retain the professionals on whom the system depends.

That’s good news, but half just doesn’t cut it. We’re back because we haven’t forgotten about vulnerable Mainers who depend on these services.

This crisis is more than a public policy concern. Both of us come from communities that have seen group home closures that uproot the people who they supported and families unable to keep reliable in-home care providers for their aging loved ones.

No Mainer should fear for the safety of their loved ones because the state has decided they’re not worthy of care.

These are our neighbors, friends and family. To see their success threatened hurts not only our communities but also the very success of our state. It also hurts the professionals who care for them.

As Mollie Baldwin, executive director of Home Care for Maine, said in support of L.D. 643: “Our employees are some of the most dedicated people I know. They travel long distances, often venturing all alone into the homes of strangers, to do the basic, but no less essential tasks that keep our elder adults in their homes. … Our workers deserve better pay that reflects the value of the work they do and the importance we place in taking care of our most vulnerable population.”

Let’s finish the work we started by fully funding the remaining recommended rate increases for Maine’s vulnerable adults, including our seniors and those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism.

Maine has a civil, moral and legal obligation to care for our most vulnerable residents. Our bills ensure we meet that obligation, but only if they are fully funded. We urge our colleagues to join us in supporting both bills once again and thank those who already have.

Erin Herbig, a Democratic state representative from Belfast, is House majority leader, and Ellie Espling, a Republican state representative from New Gloucester, is House assistant minority leader.

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