Pay increases for as many as 20,000 Maine direct care workers that were set to take place on July 1 will now go into effect three months sooner.

Additionally, the Mills administration said Monday it’s expanding access to meals for older Mainers who might be home-bound because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact our state, we know our older residents and those who need personal care are at particular risk,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a written statement. “To ensure everyone in Maine, especially our most vulnerable residents, have the care they need, we are expediting measures to support them and the dedicated workers who care for them as this pandemic continues.”

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew added: “It’s more important now than ever to ensure that older Mainers and those with disabilities can receive the care and nutritious meals they need at home.”

Maine lawmakers had previously approved as part of the $73 million supplemental budget a Medicaid rate increase for direct care workers, a group that includes personal support specialists, home health aides, private duty nurses and others who care for residents in their homes.

The increase was set to coincide with the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, but now will happen on April 1. The Department of Health and Human Services will provide $6.3 million in existing state and federal funds to cover the three-month period from April to July.

The rate increases – of between 24 percent and 30 percent – are now part of DHHS’ baseline budget starting July 1, which received an additional $15 million in the recent supplemental package

Mills also said Maine will use $800,000 it received through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act to support meals for older, homebound Mainers. That money will be distributed to local partners that rely on volunteers to deliver meals to homes while still maintaining physical distancing.

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