AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee voted unanimously Friday to send a bill to help fund Maine Veterans Homes to the full Legislature for consideration.
The emergency bill, LD 2001, was introduced by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to provide emergency relief that might allow the nonprofit to keep veterans homes open in Caribou and Machias. Maine Veterans Homes announced last month they would be closing.
The State Senate will review Jackson’s bill on March 17. Friday’s vote of 9-0 by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee followed a working session the same day.
Maine Veterans Homes provides long-term and skilled nursing care to veterans and qualified family members at its six facilities in the state. Besides Machias and Caribou, there are homes in Bangor, Augusta, Scarborough and South Paris. There are a little more than 100,000 veterans in Maine including those from five wars, constituting 9.6 percent of the state’s adult population.
The Machias and Caribou homes have lost a combined total of $2 million annually for the last several years, according to the nonprofit’s spokesperson Christine Henson. The facilities are on track to lose a combined $3 million this year.
When Maine Veterans Homes announced last month that their facilities in Caribou and Machias would close, many lawmakers sprang into action, sending letters to the facilities, and asking them to reconsider the closures. Jackson drafted LD 2001 with the intention of preventing the closures, although the homes have said temporary aid will not stop the closures.
The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on March 3 to discuss the bill, which led to Friday’s workshop and vote.
“I feel really, really ecstatic,” Jackson said Friday. “The committee worked the hell out of the bill, especially Sen. (Craig) Hickman, (D-Winthrop). It was great to be in line with the governor in order to try and keep these facilities open. There were a lot of nay-sayers both in the Legislature and in (Aroostook) County, but this is something I have felt very strongly about and we didn’t get deterred.”
Jackson anticipates that there will be a strong affirmative vote for the bill when it goes in front of the Senate next week.