by Pam Partridge
Every Tuesday when the Maine legislature is in session, a throng of older Mainers wearing red, gather at the State House in Augusta. They are members of AARP Maine’s “Tuesdays at the State House” (TASH) volunteer lobby corps. Their mission? To meet with legislators, attend committee meetings, testify at public hearings and encourage the adoption of laws to benefit Mainers 50+ and their families. They wear red to stand out in the crowd of otherwise muted colors and somber suits. One legislator recently said to one of our advocates “Any day I see folks wearing red sitting in my committee room, I know that AARP is here to be heard.”
Even though COVID-19 means no in-person advocacy this legislative session, TASH volunteers continue their work virtually. They meet over Zoom every Tuesday morning, invite legislators to discuss current bills, and work together on upcoming issues. It’s exciting to see AARP’s work in action each week!
These volunteer advocates don’t just work on Tuesdays. Throughout the legislative session, they identify and track bills of interest, and monitor relevant committee hearings and meetings. They contact their state legislators by phone, mail or in person, write letters to the editor, and spread the word about initiatives that will help older Mainers.
As you may recall, AARP Maine has over 200,000 members, and a full-time staff of five who set priorities for each legislative session and oversee volunteer advocates. AARP is nonprofit and strictly non-partisan which means they can focus on the issues. This is important for Maine and also for our local residents who are 50 or older.
In the last legislative session, AARP Maine’s TASH advocates helped gain passage of the High-Speed Internet bond. In 2019, their work resulted in four important prescription drug bills. One of these will reduce drug prices by limiting fees charged by “middlemen” between drug manufacturers and pharmacies. The other bills address price transparency, establish a drug affordability review board, and provide support for the state to import drugs from Canada.
For the current legislative session, AARP Maine’s top priorities include retirement security, telehealth, and fair utility rates. Guided by staff, these volunteer advocates will watch for bills dealing with prescription drug price gouging, and a tax break for caregivers. They may also be called upon to monitor the progress of bills concerning housing, transportation, and taxation issues.
As part of their efforts in 2021, volunteers across the state are holding virtual “kitchen table chats.” They virtually bring together friends and neighbors with their senator or representative to discuss what issues matter most to older residents in their community. Participants have raised many issues including lack of dependable internet and high prescription drug prices. In Maine’s more rural counties, some participants have cited the lack of available transportation options for older residents to get to medical appointments and do necessary errands.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll return with another column focused on current legislation of interest to Mainers 50+ such as the proposed retirement savings bill. We’ll explain why this legislation is so important to the 235,000 Mainers without access to a savings program through their employer. Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about any of these topics or AARP Maine’s work, visit www.aarp.org/me or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.