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JB Whipple of Scarborough is a member of the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, a member of its board of directors and president of its Cumberland County Chapter. She is writing as an MSEA member. She works as an adult protective investigator for the Office of Aging and Disability Services within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
I am seriously concerned about Maine’s ability to continue protecting seniors and adults with disabilities, as well as children, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping state and local services going during the pandemic’s economic fallout is proving to be a real problem. Most state departments, including the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, were ordered to identify 10 percent in budget cuts to address an anticipated $1.4 billion state revenue shortfall over the next three years. Departments have until Oct. 19 to identify proposed cuts.
Scores of Maine adults with disabilities and seniors were subjected to abuse and neglect even before the pandemic hit. They need our help now more than ever. The National Center on Elder Abuse identifies social isolation as a significant factor in elder abuse and notes, “we cannot let one catastrophe breed another.”
Maine seniors already lose $10.5 million to $64 million in savings annually to financial exploitation, according to an executive order signed by Gov. Janet Mills in October 2019 creating the Elder Justice Coordinating Partnership. Elders and citizens with disabilities in Maine also are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by the very people trusted to care for them, be it a family member or someone hired. An estimated 14,000 reports are filed annually.
After a decade of Maine understaffing and underfunding elder and adult services, the personal finance website Wallethub in 2019 ranked Maine in the bottom half among states with the best elder-abuse protections.
State and local governments can’t cut their way out of the revenue shortfalls the pandemic created. Action at the national level is needed. The U.S. Senate must ensure critical state services like those provided to Maine’s vulnerable adults and seniors are funded during the pandemic. That’s why I’m pushing Sen. Susan Collins to support the HEROES Act. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act in May to fund state and local services, protect frontline workers and prevent further job losses. The Senate responded by going on vacation. That’s an insult to everyone impacted by the pandemic.
Collins and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should listen to Sen. Angus King for the path forward. “The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15, which should have opened negotiations but continues to collect dust on the Majority Leader’s desk to this very day,” King said Aug. 9. “The American people are hurting — let’s cut the games, negotiate in good faith for the people who sent us here, and help them weather this storm. I am urging all parties to go to the table and resume good-faith negotiations to confront this growing emergency. History tells us that half-measures at moments like this only prolong and deepen the crisis; I deeply hope we don’t repeat that tragic mistake.”
The need to protect vulnerable Americans is real. Over 25 million unemployed Americans are counting on state and local services to get back on their feet. Without funding to support public services, many Mainers will suffer unnecessarily. This Labor Day, we must do more than merely thank workers; let’s give them the support our communities need and deserve by passing the HEROES Act.