Undervaluing the direct care workforce in Maine is costing the state millions each year, according to a new report from the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy.

The center’s Arthur Phillips said roughly 8,000 Mainers are not in the labor force in order to care for loved ones due to a lack of direct care workers, which costs the state $13 million in annual lost tax revenue.

And wages for direct care workers are so low that many rely on public assistance. The report found that 18 percent of direct care workers are enrolled in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, which costs $18 million a year. And Phillips said many receive temporary assistance and SNAP benefits, which cost another $6 million annually.

“The costs of addressing the direct care worker shortage, some may argue that they’re too high to tackle. But what we want to get across is that the costs of failing to address the issue are even higher and will be borne by everyone throughout our state,” Phillips said.

A new state law requires that direct care workers be paid 125 percent of the minimum wage, which Phillips said currently amounts to only $17.25 an hour.

Jess Maurer of the Maine Council on Aging said the lack of workers has resulted in nursing homes operating at 78 percent of capacity. Meanwhile, she said, providers who care for people with intellectual disabilities have more than 900 staff openings.

“If fully staffed, respondents projected they could provide supports to an additional 1,644 children and adults,” Maurer said.

The report recommends boosting reimbursement rates in order to increase wages for direct care workers and provide benefits such as health insurance.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.