AARP OUTREACH: AARP Maine hard at work (virtually) in Augusta

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: me@aarp.org.

AARP OUTREACH: Greetings from your friends at AARP Maine

by Lori Parham
AARP Maine State Director

We have all been impacted in different ways this year as COVID-19 spread across Maine and the country. For me, living far away from family has been especially difficult. Despite the many challenges we’ve faced I’m proud that AARP Maine’s wonderful staff and volunteers continued their efforts on behalf of Mainers 50+ and their families in the legislature, through voter engagement, in support of local communities and organizations, and more.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has made clear, it is that personal connections are both immensely valuable and sorely missed. We miss seeing many of you at our local coffees and happy hours, out on the walking trails, and walking the halls in the State House. Even in the best of times, social isolation is a problem. In Maine, over 135,000 people 50-plus live alone and are at a higher risk of experiencing social isolation. We all know that winter brings additional challenges. With this in mind, we have compiled resources for managing through the winter months and have developed a free resource guide for caregivers who are facing additional challenges. Both guides are available on our website at www.aarp.org/me.

The problem of social isolation only magnifies the need to expand affordable high-speed internet access to all parts of Maine. Thousands of Mainers have limited or no access, and as a result, are left with little connection to family and friends. You can help! The Maine Broadband Coalition, in partnership with AARP Maine and others, has launched a statewide, crowdsourced speed test site. Take the speed test so we can start to address the areas most in need. The more tests that are completed, the more useful it will be for our efforts to expand high-speed internet access statewide. Spread the word by visiting www.mainebroadbandcoalition.org.

Looking ahead to the 2021 legislative season, we are excited to continue advocating on issues of concern to Mainers 50-plus. We will be working closely with our elected leaders as they try to address the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Our wonderful legislative volunteers will continue to meet virtually each week and track bills of interest. We’d love to have you join us if you are looking for ways to stay busy during the deepest winter months. Send us a note here: me@aarp.org. You can read our issue platform on our website, too. If you are interested in following our work, find us on Facebook/Twitter (@AARPMaine), Instagram (@aarpme), and on our website at www.aarp.org/me.

In 2021, we will offer virtual events as we continue to work remotely for at least the next few months. AARP Maine staff are working to offer events on everything from yoga to fraud educational sessions. We would love to hear your ideas for any Maine-focused events! All ideas are welcome, and you can send them to me@aarp.org anytime.

As we approach the end of 2020, I want to wish you and your family peace, joy, and good health in the year ahead. As always, I appreciate hearing your feedback and ideas so that we can better serve you and your family.

AARP OUTREACH: It’s Maine family caregivers month

by Jane Margesson
AARP Maine, Communications Director

At AARP Maine, we know that caregiving can be one of the most important roles you will ever take on in your life. You may have become a caregiver suddenly or perhaps your role has evolved over time. No matter where you are in the continuum of caregiving—starting to plan, helping to coordinate a big move, or taking care of a family member in your home—having resources at your fingertips will make the process easier.

That is why we developed a Maine Family Caregiver Resource Guide for Maine caregivers of all ages. You can find the guide on our website or we would be happy to send a free copy by mail as well.

With many organizations offering different types of help and services, it can be a challenge to sort out the specific type of help or services best suited for your needs. Our guide can help address that. AARP Maine developed this resource guide with you, the caregiver, in mind as a starting point to help you find the services and supports you need throughout your caregiving journey.

This resource guide can assist you in several ways:

  • It can help you get the type of assistance you need. This directory lists many government and nonprofit resources, which you can access both in-person and online.

It can also help you connect with others. You’ll discover, if you have not already, that you’re a part of a community of caregivers and caregiver supporters. You are truly not alone.

In fact, a few years ago, AARP Maine worked with the state legislature to designate November as Maine Family Caregivers Month. This is important as it raises awareness about the needs and challenges of Maine’s over 180,000 family caregivers throughout the state. Especially with the holidays coming up, and even more especially during a pandemic, we need to be mindful of caregivers and their families.

Mainers, please know that you can count on AARP to be a strong and dedicated advocate on behalf of family caregivers. Many older Mainers and their families are struggling to navigate our state’s long-term care system and when you are a caregiver, the challenges of providing support to your loved one can feel overwhelming. We need to broaden the options for community and home-based services so family caregivers have the best resources available to care for their loved ones no matter where they live.

We also recommend that you visit the AARP Caregiver Online Resource Center at www.aarp.org/caregiving for a broad array of additional resources and tools for caregivers.

Warmest wishes to every one of Maine’s 180,000+ family caregivers and their loved ones. We hope you will reach out to us if you have any questions or if there is anything you need.

AARP Maine – www.aarp.org/me and follow us on Facebook (@aarpmaine) and Instagram (@aarpme).

AARP OUTREACH: AARP Maine spotlights importance of older voters

by Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director

You may recollect that AARP Maine recently launched “Protect Voters 50+,” a non-partisan voter engagement campaign to support and protect Mainers 50+ as they vote in the November election. In addition to providing information about safe voting options, AARP is tracking key races and candidates’ positions on issues that matter to older voters such as protecting Social Security and Medicare, bringing down healthcare costs and strengthening the economy. These issues can affect the entire family and we hope you know that you can count on AARP here in Maine and across the country to fight on behalf of our members on these critical matters.

Last week, AARP Maine released new polling results as part of an effort to deliver non-partisan election resources to Maine voters. The polling data focused on the US Senate, Presidential and second Congressional District races. There is no doubt that voters 50+ carry a lot of weight in the upcoming elections! In fact, our surveys of Maine and other battleground states show voters 65+ could very well decide the election. Despite deep partisan division, older voters are united when it comes to health and financial security concerns.

First of all, AARP’s polling results show that:

• Maine’s U.S. Senate race is a statistical dead heat among voters age 50+.
• Former Vice President Joe Biden has a double-digit lead over President Donald Trump.
• Incumbent Democratic Congressman Jared Golden leads Republican challenger, Dale
Crafts, by 13-points in Maine’s Second Congressional District. Interestingly, Golden’s lead is due to his 24-point margin among voters 50+.

Just this week AARP Maine released additional data, this time highlighting issues of concern to Maine voters 50-plus and their families. It is clear that Social Security and Medicare are incredibly important to older Mainers, with at least 80% listing each issue as extremely or very important to deciding their vote for U.S. Senate. Also, overwhelming majorities would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports protecting Medicare, allowing Medicare to negotiate Rx prices, and protecting Social Security from cuts.

While we can all likely agree that the 2020 election promises to be like no other, one thing is clear: Candidates who want to win in 2020 must talk about the issues that matter to voters 50+. They must also talk about how Mainers can vote safely from home or in-person. According to the AARP Maine survey, a majority of Maine voters 50+ plan on voting on Election Day in person, but a significant share will vote by absentee ballot. This is especially true among voters aged 65+ who are significantly more likely to vote absentee this year due to the coronavirus. You can view the full results of the survey at www.aarp.org/me.

AARP Maine is dedicated to making sure you and your family have all the information you need to vote safely on November 3. That is an integral part of “Protect Voters 50+.” Whether you’re planning to vote in person or by absentee ballot here in Maine, we want to make sure your ballot arrives on time and that you feel safe if you choose to go to your local polling place. Please visit www.aarp.org/mainevotes to make your plan and be ready for Election Day.

Remember: It’s your voice, and that’s what counts.

AARP OUTREACH – Vote safely at the polls or from home: AARP program enhances local outreach

by Patricia Pinto
AARP Maine Volunteer, State President

As you may recall from my previous column in The Town Line, AARP Maine is laser-focused on the protection of Social Security this election season. This remarkable program just celebrated its 85th year and we like to remind all Mainers that in good times and in bad, for each one of those 85 years, Social Security has never missed a payment. AARP will always fight to protect and strengthen Social Security. These are hard-earned benefits for over 240,000 retired Mainers and we believe it’s a promise that must be kept.

You may also be aware that AARP Maine recently launched “Protect Voters 50+,” a non-partisan voter engagement campaign to support and protect Mainers 50+ as they vote in the November election. We’re tracking key races and candidates’ positions on issues that matter to older voters such as protecting Social Security and Medicare, bringing down healthcare costs and strengthening the economy. These are issues that affect whole families and you can count on AARP here in Maine and across the country to augment the voices of our members on these critical matters.

Another crucial aspect of our “Protect Voters 50+” campaign centers on providing information about safe voting options. Working together, AARP Maine, the Maine Secretary of State, and election officials are reminding voters that while your local polling place will be open, you can also vote in the November election by absentee ballot. Please visit www.aarp.org/mainevotes for more information about voting safely this election season.

In addition, AARP Maine volunteers are bringing “Protect Voters 50+” right into local communities through our unique, non-partisan “Adopt-a-Clerk” program. This wonderful initiative matches volunteers with their town clerks to inform voters about safe voting options for the 2020 election. One clerk had this to say upon being contacted by two local AARP volunteers: “Being ‘adopted’ is the best thing that will happen this election! What a great program.”

Volunteers support town clerks and their staff in any way they can, making sure election information, voting deadlines and dates, necessary forms, and other helpful details are easily accessible to voters. This is one way our AARP Maine office can do its part to ensure that municipalities are ready for their voters whether they choose to vote absentee or come to the polls on Election Day. If you are interested in learning more about the “Adopt-a-Clerk” program, please send an email to me@aarp.org today.

The state of Maine needs every voter to participate in this election! Let’s vote safely, whether at the polls or from home.

AARP Maine to mobilize older voter campaign

Recently, AARP Maine launched “Protect Voters 50+,” a comprehensive voter engagement campaign to support and protect Mainers age 50 and older as they vote in the November election. The campaign, part of AARP’s nationwide voter engagement efforts, will provide information on where candidates stand on issues that matter to Mainers 50-plus and help them cast their votes safely from home or in person.

A centerpiece of the campaign will focus on providing information about voting options in Maine this fall at www.aarp.org/mainevotes, and through the AARP Bulletin, direct mail, digital communications and paid media.

“AARP is demanding action to make sure that Americans 50-plus – whether they are working parents, family caregivers, or seniors in nursing homes – can vote safely and make their voices heard,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “Politicians need to protect the health and financial security of voters 50+, especially during this pandemic.”
The “Protect Voters 50+” campaign will provide Mainers with the information they need about this year’s elections, including:

  • Information on how to vote absentee;
  • Questions to ask your municipal clerk to ensure you can vote safely in person;
  • Video voters’ guides;
  • Polling;
  • Issue briefings;
  • Direct mail, text messaging, social media and paid media.

“Now, more than ever, Mainers want to hear how the candidates will address key issues like protecting Social Security, bringing down health care costs, and strengthening the economy in this uncertain time,” said Parham. AARP Maine will track key races, sponsor debates, and host tele-townhall events. Election information will be provided through a full-scale digital effort, including, the aarp.org/election2020 hub, AARP Now app, social media, and news alerts.

In addition, AARP is working again with TurboVote this election; a joint effort by America’s biggest brands and organizations coming together in a nonpartisan, long-term commitment to increase voter participation. With the launch of Protect Voters 50-plus, AARP’s TurboVote tool is now live at votingtool.aarp.org, where voters can sign up to receive election reminders, updates on voting procedures and more.

AARP has a proud 34-year history of non-partisan voter engagement and does not endorse or oppose candidates, nor does AARP make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.

We encourage all Mainers to ask their municipal clerk about voting absentee, or should they choose to vote in person, how they can do so safely. In addition, AARP Maine encourages voters to ask questions of the candidates so they know where they stand on important issues, and can make informed decisions on Election Day.

AARP OUTREACH: Celebrating 85 years of social security with a question: How will the candidates protect this vital program?

by Patricia Pinto
AARP Maine Volunteer, State President

On August 14, Social Security turns 85 years old. This critical program has remained strong over its 85-year history largely because of its dedicated funding, vigorous support from the American people and the commitment of elected officials to work together in order to make the changes needed to secure its financial future.

Currently, 45 million retired workers and 3.1 million dependents receive Social Security benefits. Social Security also covers about 6 million survivors of deceased workers and 10 million employees with disabilities and their dependents. On average, one out of every 4 households rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.

In Maine, approximately 260,000 individuals age 65-plus receive Social Security checks each month. It is estimated that one-third of these beneficiaries have no other source of income. The importance of strengthening Social Security now and for future generations cannot be overstated.

This election season, AARP Maine is committed to protecting voters 50-plus and ensuring that all Mainers can vote safely and make their voices heard on the issues that matter. If candidates want to win in November, they must address key issues such as preventing cuts to Social Security. Congress and the White House must take action to ensure full Social Security benefits can continue to be paid after 2035, when the program is expected to run a funding shortfall.

As we celebrate the 85th anniversary of Social Security, AARP Maine encourages all Maine voters to take action this election season and ask the candidates how they intend to protect this program which has become a vital safety net for so many Americans, young and old. We can all hold candidates accountable for addressing Social Security’s future and planning for its continued solvency, equity, and longevity.

For more information on AARP’s commitment to voters 50-plus this election season, go to aarp.org/election2020. If you are interested in working with AARP Maine to advocate for Social Security’s future and for other important issues, please contact us at me@aarp.org, visit our Facebook page, or call our toll-free number (866) 554-5380. We look forward to hearing from you!

AARP OUTREACH: Three out of four Mainers vote for high speed internet access for all

by Japhet Els

“We cannot compete if we are not connected.” Jim Fisher was right: how can Maine expect to compete, to grow and expand, without being better connected to more customers, clients, consumers, and the rest of the world?

The simple answer is, we can’t. And Mr. Fisher’s experience as Town Manager of Deer Isle showed him this.

We’ve been through this before. The onset of the telephone at the turn of the century was a debate about being connected. Landlines were being laid and everybody, no matter where you lived, had the opportunity to get connected. Today’s internet access is similar to telephone access one hundred years ago. The only difference is there are far more underserved, unserved, communities when it comes to affordable high-speed internet access.

The good news is on July 14 more than 75 percent of Maine voters voted for a better internet where we need it most. They are the Deer Isles, Abbots, Pattens, and Port Clydes, where affordable high-speed internet is rare and usually impossible. They are the communities where an affordable high-speed internet connection is far from guaranteed and more than likely costs an arm and leg. They are communities where everyone works two jobs to make ends meet, maybe three or four. They are communities that will capitalize on an affordable, accessible high-speed internet connection to create jobs, connect to more customers, and support families. All we have to do is get it to them.

Question 1 on the ballot jumpstarted this effort.

More than 75 percent of Maine voters demanded that high-speed internet be affordable and accessible no matter where you may live in Maine. Supporting question one set Maine up to connect our most rural, underserved communities to a high-speed connection. And when was the last time more 75 percent of us supported one idea? It’s rare in today’s partisan world, yet Mainers chose not to be divided, instead finding common ground around investing in our collective and connected future.

When you’re talking about high-speed internet, you’re talking about small businesses plugging into a competitive market. You’re talking about Mainers connecting with their doctors via video conference from their kitchen tables instead of driving many miles for a simple check-up. You’re talking about our kids connecting to their assignments and class resources right from their bedrooms, not from a Wal-Mart parking lot. You’re talking about connecting families and making sure, even during a pandemic, we can reach the ones we love through a modern high-speed internet connection.

Mr. Fisher reminds us that information is important to everyone these days, even fisherman. “Over 15 percent of the workforce is in lobstering, fishing – that’s a tremendously important export industry for us and they rely on the internet for pricing information, communication, particularly now,” Fisher says. “It’s been said that when a business wants to expand in Deer Isle it usually means they’re leaving…and those that stay end up going to extraordinary lengths to acquire a high-speed connection.”

There are many Jim Fishers in Maine and lobstering isn’t the only business impacted by a modern internet connection. Our rural communities require high-speed internet today and passing question one on July 14 allowed Maine to take the first step to a more connected future.

This is only the first-step. We’re on the right road, no doubt. But we have more steps to take to get more of Maine connected. To all of those who support Question One on the ballot, thank you. We have more work to do we look forward to getting to it with your help.

Born in Waterville, camp in Kents Hill, and family in Bath, Japhet Els is Outreach Director for AARP Maine working on the issues impacting the 50+ community and their families including access to affordable high-speed internet.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide suspends service through 2020

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free, volunteer-based tax preparation and assistance service, has announced that State of Maine AARP Foundation Tax-Aide sites will not re-open in 2020.

In mid-March, due to COVID-19, the national AARP Foundation Tax-Aide office suspended tax preparation at all tax preparation locations throughout the country. Shortly thereafter, also because of COVID-19, the IRS extended the tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15.

With the extended deadline, Tax-Aide volunteers in Maine worked together to try to find a way to safely reopen at least some of its tax preparation sites. However, with COVID-19 complications posing a risk to both older taxpayer clients and Tax-Aide volunteers, it has been decided that AARP Tax-Aide sites in Maine will not reopen in 2020.

The program will return in 2021, having had time to make all the modifications deemed necessary to ensure as much as possible the health and safety of both taxpayers and volunteers.

In the meantime, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers online options to assist taxpayers affected by the suspension of in-person services:

  • A self-prep option, providing taxpayers with free access to software so they can prepare taxes on they own, is available at aarpfoundation.org/preparing-your-taxes-online/
  • If taxpayers have a computer and printer and would like help completing their own taxes, they can request the assistance of a volunteer to coach them through the process via phone or computer screen-sharing. Taxpayers should visit org/forms/tax-prep-assistance-request.html to submit a request.

Although the ‘deadline’ for filing tax returns is usually April 15, taxpayers actually have up to three years to file their federal and state tax returns. As long as there is a refund or no tax due, there are no penalties for filing anytime within the three year period. The failure to file and failure to pay penalties are applied only when a return is filed late and money is owed.

AARP OUTREACH: Primary balloting – Be safe, vote from home

by Japhet Els

I followed my mother up the town hall steps, into the large meeting room wondering why this didn’t feel like “just another errand.” I was at the age where everything was “up” – everyone was taller, countertops might as well have been rooflines, ceilings were skies of sorts, and the floor was comfortably close at all times. As we entered the hall, I recall organizing the world by all the different lower body apparel jostling about – jeans, khakis, skirts, leggings, and a few brave souls in shorts. Perhaps we all have that distant memory of grabbing the wrong pair of legs in a crowd and looking up in terror at an unfamiliar face. Being four years old has many benefits but height is not one of them.

We waited in line among our fellow neighbors until a woman who wore her gray hair in a tight bun, whose glasses dangled dangerously close to the end of her nose, ushered us to an open booth. My mother led me inside. I suddenly felt like something special was about to unfold. It was as though we were entering confession only there was no priest on the other side. She pulled a large lever from left to right in front of her and suddenly a curtain pulled shut directly behind us. Ta-dah! We were ready to punch our ballot for the 1984 general election. To my four-year old brain it wasn’t just special, it was magic.

I vote on my own now but it still feels like magic even at the worst of times. I’ve learned how important this duty is within a strong, engaged, community. But it’s not easy to feel inspired these days. Often elections have boring issues, terrible candidates, and zero motivating factors. But, as my grandfather reminded me once, “the boring ones are the most important ones,” so we can’t afford to ignore them. Indeed, the act of voting is not about how inspired you may feel. Instead, it’s about how much inspiration you can bring to Election Day.

Going to the polls isn’t in the cards for me on July 14. That’s our next primary election here in Maine where we’ll decide on congressional candidates, important local issues, and ballot measures that I hope Mainers won’t ignore. Even if you’re not affiliated with either party, you have a ballot, and community, that needs your voice. Instead of going to the polls on July 14 I’ll be casting my ballot from home, absentee. Why? Well, I guess I’d rather be cautious and wise today than risk being a fool tomorrow. We aren’t any less free filling our ballots out at home. We aren’t any less patriotic mailing them into our town clerks. Indeed, I’d argue we’re even freer, more patriotic, by carrying out our duty safely and securely from home during a questionable public health moment.

There are many unknowns in this strange new world we’re all adjusting to. I don’t feel I can address all of them and perhaps you feel the same. So, I end up taking it one day at a time. When it comes to July 14 and carrying out our duty as Maine citizens, it’s not a hard choice: Vote safe. Vote from home. Getting your absentee ballot is simple. Call your town clerk or the Secretary of State’s office and request your absentee ballot today so you’ll have it securely in your mailbox around June 15 with plenty of time to fill it out and mail it back in. We’re asking more and more Mainers who don’t feel the need to take the risk of voting in person to “Vote safe, vote from home.”

Will I miss piling into my local elementary school gym to vote alongside my friends and neighbors? Sure. But do I want to put others, myself, or the volunteers handing out ballots, at risk? Not really. Especially if voting absentee is an easy and established option.

I hope you’ll join me, and thousands of other Mainers on July 14 in voting absentee. We can carry out our duty wisely from home. It won’t take away from the magic built into an American tradition but it will help stamp out this pandemic, and that’s something we all can get behind no matter your age (or height).

If you’d like to request your absentee ballot you can go to https://bit.ly/ME_AbsenteeRequest and fill out the request form on the Secretary of State’s website. Or, simply call your Town Clerk’s office and request an absentee ballot directly.

Japhet Els is Outreach Director for AARP Maine.