Gov. Paul LePage said Friday night that he plans to veto two bills that would increase reimbursement rates for the agencies that hire direct care workers who provide key support for adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as those who care for the elderly in nursing homes.

The bill affecting those who work with intellectually disabled adults passed the Legislature unanimously last week, giving supporters hope that it will garner the two-thirds majority necessary to override the governor’s veto when lawmakers return on July 9.

Even so, Lydia Dawson, executive director of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, said the veto would be devastating and would create an immediate crisis for both the 4,000 Maine adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the workers who care for them because the rates are due to revert to 2017 levels on July 1.

Those workers would face an immediate 12 percent pay cut, Dawson said, to $9.17 an hour – less than minimum wage – with the nonprofits that run group homes scrambling to find other sources in order to bring them up to minimum wage. The bill, L.D. 924, had sought to rectify that problem before the deadline and raise the reimbursement rates to the equivalent of $11 an hour.

Ray Nagel, executive director of the Independence Association, a Brunswick nonprofit that operates about 15 group homes, said he is hopeful the Legislature will override LePage’s veto.

“I think the Legislature, irrespective of if they are Republican or Democrats, are people who care about the population we serve,” he said.

Nagel noted that workers will be paid less than the rates established in fiscal year 2007 if the veto is not overridden.

“This is about people’s lives,” he said. “They overrode the veto about the marijuana bill so I am assuming – this is a more important issue. I am hopeful.”

LePage’s planned veto of L.D. 925, the bill that would have allowed for increased reimbursements to pay those who care for the elderly in nursing homes, has a better chance of being sustained since lawmakers didn’t give it their unanimous support.

Dawson said the nonprofits who run these homes, and provide caregivers to intellectually disabled adults at home, were unsure that services could remain operational after June 30, unless there was immediate action to minimize the impact. About 1,800 adult Mainers with disabilities are in group homes; another 1,700 are on waiting lists and being cared for at home. “We are already in a crisis,” Dawson said. “And to ask people to weather another cut and maintain hope is really difficult right now.”

The low wages make it challenging for these group homes and agencies to hold onto workers, who could take on far less stressful jobs for minimum wage. And with low unemployment, Maine is experiencing a worker shortage, which only exacerbates the situation.

The governor, who opposes the minimum wage increase, acknowledged that in a statement announcing his planned veto.

“Home care workers need better pay,” LePage said in the statement Friday evening, adding that he would veto the bill because it was only a “short-term fix.” He went on to put the bulk of the blame on mandated increases in the minimum wage.

“The rising minimum wage is decreasing employers’ flexibility in attracting workers,” he said. He called for a “slowdown” in “government-mandated increases” to the minimum wage, which he said would increase the cost of goods and services and hurt the economy and the elderly.

Maine voters approved a minimum wage increase in November 2016. The minimum wage is due to increase to $12 per hour by 2020. He also put blame on House Speaker Sara Gideon for not being supportive of the bill he initiated to help elderly people stay in their homes during tax lien foreclosure. “The speaker ignores the plight of the elderly,” LePage said in his radio address.

For Dawson, the practical matter of the crisis overshadowed the political infighting.

“So we’re not spending a lot of time trying to figure out who is right or wrong,” Dawson said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to survive.”

This story was corrected July 1 to reflect the fact that Gov. LePage had not yet vetoed the bills.

 

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