Commentary

Bill LD 365 is a “Hand up” Not a “Hand out”

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Coming before the Appropriations Committee this month is bill LD 365 that creates an income tax credit for expenses incurred for home modifications to make it accessible to an individual with a disability or physical hardship.

Public policies have promoted vast changes in public spaces to accommodate the limitations and special needs of our disabled and handicapped neighbors, but these very same neighbors often have barriers within their own domiciles that limit their mobility at home. This bill seeks to assist them in making home modifications that enhance and extend independent living while delaying the need to enter costly assisted-living and nursing facilities.

A ramp to enter a library or town office is an essential accommodation for our disabled, but some need a ramp out of their home to get to the library, town office, community center or church. A wheelchair-bound person’s confinement might be relieved if doorways are widened; kitchen shelves lowered; or a stair lift installed permitting movement between floors. Falls in bathrooms that lead to emergency trips to the hospital can be reduced with hand rails and support bars and with walk-in showers.

Data sets for Maine compiled in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate over 18% of Maine’s population consists of persons 65 years and over — the “oldest state” in the country.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at least 70% of people over the age of 65 will require some form of long term care services and support during their lives.

According to the Genworth 2015 Cost of Care Survey, the median annual rate for one-bedroom/single occupancy in an assisted living facility in the U.S. is $43,200 and $57,600 in Maine. The median annual rate for a semi-private room in a nursing home in the U.S. is $80,300 and $100,375 in Maine.

According to disability statistics compiled in 2014 by the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, of the U.S. population with disabilities, the highest percentages of disability were in the population 65 and over (36.6%). A 2013 report by Cornell University found the overall percentage (prevalence rate) of disability in Maine was 16.3% for persons of all ages; 21.2%for persons ages 65 to 74 and 50.3% for persons ages 75+.

The cost of all types of care has steadily risen over the years — from homemaker services to nursing home care. However, the cost of care provided in people’s homes has not risen by the same degree as care provided in facilities, according to the insurance provider Genworth.

Ideally, our elderly wish to “age in place” and continue to live independently.

At a public hearing last year, a range of organizations, including the National MS Society, AARP and Alpha One, testified that bill LD 365 would help Mainers continue to live safely and independently in their own homes while expanding their range of mobility.

The bill was sponsored by The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater New England Chapter in Maine and introduced by Rep. Archie Verow (D-Brewer).

LD 365 is coming before the Appropriations Committee this month. It has bipartisan support and demonstrates how to give people a “hand up” rather than a “hand out” while saving costly institutionalization and infusing dollars into local economies.

People with disabilities who benefit by home modifications are of all ages, religions, income levels and political preferences: our veterans; our injured from serious accidents; our neighbors  — young to old — who suffer quietly with chronic illness.

It deserves support and full funding by the Appropriations Committee this session and be signed by Gov. LePage.

 

About Michael Buccini

Michael Thomas Buccini is a member of the Maine Government Relations Committee of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He can be reached at 207-286-6930.

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