We have known for a long time that Maine is facing an aging crisis. Half of our population is older than 44, and every year there are fewer births than deaths and more Mainers turn 65 than graduate from high school.

Our changing demographics have implications for housing, health care and civic life that require coordinated action and leadership from the highest level of state government.

But that’s not what we’ve gotten for the last eight years.

Under the administration of Paul LePage, we have lost ground in nearly every policy area that is implicated by our aging population, creating unnecessary suffering for today’s seniors and guaranteeing more of the same for tomorrow’s.

The governor gives a lot of rhetorical support for older Mainers, but when it comes time to get anything done, it’s just talk.

POVERTY ON THE RISE

Perhaps the most damning statistic is the number of seniors living in poverty, which has grown even as the state’s economy has improved. The number of adults over age 60 who said they didn’t have enough food increased from 12.2 percent to 15.6 percent, according to America’s Health Rankings Senior Report 2018.

While thousands of elderly Mainers are living in homes they can’t afford to heat or maintain, the governor single-handedly stopped a $15 million senior housing bond that had been approved by voters after getting two-thirds support in both houses of the Legislature. The program was much smaller than the $65 million bond recommended by advocates, but it would have been a small step in the right direction.

Instead, the governor pounds his fist about a bill to make it more complicated for towns to foreclose on property owned by seniors who owe taxes, based on the story of one couple in Albion, while he ignores the underlying problem — a critical shortage of affordable housing for seniors.

A number of equally inexplicable decisions have stood in the way of people in need getting help. In 2015, the administration turned back a five-year, $2.5 million federal grant that would have promoted colonoscopies among older Mainers. The next year, his Department of Health and Human Services failed to apply for $300,000 in federal aid to help the 28,000 Mainers with Alzheimer’s disease and their unpaid family caregivers.

This year, the state failed to apply for as much as $1 million in federal funds for dementia programming, offering no explanation to the families who would have benefited.

OTHER CUTBACKS

The administration has cut back on prescription drug assistance and fought pay increases for direct-care workers. This year, legislators dropped a $500,000 proposal to finance Meals on Wheels because backers did not believe they could get enough support to pass it over an expected veto.

This record is all the more appalling because there is no controversy around making sure seniors have enough to eat, a place to sleep and decent health care. All the time that LePage has been in office, there have been bipartisan coalitions ready to find a way to take action.

Five years ago, the Maine Sunday Telegram sounded the alarm, kicking off a 12-month series called “The Challenge of Our Age,” which framed the issues that experts in the field and thousands of Maine families had been discussing on a daily basis. Five years later, Maine is still failing to respond.

As we enter the heat of another political season, it’s important to remember that every politician loves seniors on Election Day, but they don’t always deliver when they are in office. Maine seniors can’t afford to stand still for another eight years.

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