Low-income Mainers who are covered under Section 19 of MaineCare, meaning they are eligible for nursing-home care but prefer to stay in their homes, are able to get rides for non-emergency medical care.
This program would give those residents access to up to $2,000 in transportation services for non-medical purposes as well.
Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, said social health needs are critically important in keeping people healthy.
“If you make sure that somebody who can’t drive can get to the grocery store,” said Maurer, “and can get to the laundromat, and can get to social activities – that keeps you emotionally sound, than you might not need a ride to the doctor.”
More than 75% of respondents to a survey of groups who provide transportation to older Americans and those with disabilities said that when people stop driving, finding alternative transportation is difficult, largely because of affordability.
Maine’s population is aging faster than that of many other states, and more than 60% of its residents live in rural areas, according to data from the Maine Department of Transportation.
Maurer noted that more than 70% of Mainers 60 and older live in communities without access to public transit, either fixed-route or flex-route.
“If they can’t drive and they can’t walk to a food source and they don’t qualify for something like Meals on Wheels, then they can’t eat,” said Maurer. “And so if they can’t eat, they will have to move into a nursing home.”
Maurer said the pilot will be modeled on a similar program in New York.
The Maine bill was first proposed in 2019 but didn’t make it to the floor and died when the Legislature adjourned for COVID-19.