Christmas Eve 1975 came during one of the hardest times in my grandfather’s life. Senile dementia was claiming his wife of 35 years. When it became clear he could no longer care for her, he, with the support of his children, my mother and uncle, put her into a nursing home. As my mom prepared dinner that afternoon and my brothers played around the Christmas tree, my grandfather sat quietly looking out the window. Finally, my dad turned to my mom and said, “Why don’t we go get Ruth?”

Through a raging ice storm, he drove down to Waldoboro and brought my grandmother back to spend Christmas with the family.

The stress and sadness a family feels in looking after a loved one suffering from a debilitating illness cannot be described. Hearing from constituents going through the same ordeal stirs up memories of my childhood visits to my grandmother. Only now, due to the Governor’s proposed cuts in MaineCare, these families will be devastated by a plan that ends support for 5,000 elderly and infirm Mainers in assisted living facilities, effectively making them homeless.

“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” one constituent tells me, with fear in her voice. “I’ll have to quit my job to take care of my mother. She worked hard all of her life, she paid her dues.”

Some have suggested that the towns and religious charities can take on the responsibility, but this assumption is naive.

“The need out there is just exploding right now,” the Rev. Jill Job Saxby, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, recently told the Portland Press Herald. “Private churches and charities, we believe, need to be part of the mix. But we can’t begin to meet all the need.”

As for municipal support, I decided to go back into Lincolnville’s town records to find out how they used to handle it. In the town meeting notes dated May 8, 1817, it was written: “Voted that the poor of the town be put up at auction to the lowest bidder and Joshua Witham was bid off by Jonathan Fletcher to board and clothe him at $1.95 cents per week for one year and Samuel Norton’s child was bid off by John Heal the 2nd to board and clothe it for 88 cents per week.”

At the same meeting, those present voted down a proposal to fund a poor farm to care for the town’s paupers. An article devoted to auctioning off such citizens to the lowest bidder would appear on each annual warrant for several decades. Eventually a contract was awarded to a local resident who would house these folks at his farm.

Poor farms once existed in towns all over Maine to house residents who couldn’t provide for themselves. Those who were physically able worked in a form of indentured servitude. Meager food and lodging ensured a profit to more unscrupulous owners. Finally, in the 1930s, when the Great Depression threw large numbers of Americans into poverty, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal enacted a much more humane and standardized system of care.

This safety net lasted through our country’s most prosperous time in history, but now the Alzheimer’s patient in the nursing home is being used to fill a budget hole left by the financial meltdown she had nothing to do with.

While Governor LePage claims the state is broke, last session the Maine Legislature passed a budget giving out annual tax reductions of $190 million skewed to benefit the state’s wealthiest residents. Starting in 2013, the state plans to give an average windfall of $43,500 to those inheriting estates worth more than $1 million and $2,810 to the wealthiest 1 percent in income tax reductions. Meanwhile, the Governor has stated plans to cut even more revenue in the form of tax expenditures in 2012.

It’s time to balance the burden and look out for all Mainers.

Unfortunately, for people currently living in long-term care facilities, there is no back-up plan once their lifeline ends on July 1.

In a recent interview on MPBN’s Maine Watch, Lance Dutson, director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which is lobbying in support of the Governor’s reform, said, “It’s unfortunate that now it’s going to cause some pain, but I think the Governor is spot-on to deal with it now, get it out of the way, so that we can build a structure so that we don’t have to go through this every year where we fill up the State House with people and worry them about what their future is.”

These families won’t stop worrying about their future as long as lawmakers continue to put their loved ones’ lives on the budget table every year. As our history shows, no matter how much we would sometimes like to ignore the most vulnerable in our society, the need cannot be swept under the rug. It’s said that those who forget their history are destined to repeat the past, but I am confident Mainers will stand up, reject these proposals, and leave the auction hammer in the museum where it belongs.

Andy O’Brien, of Lincolnville, represents District 44, comprising Lincolnville, Islesboro, Hope, Appleton, Searsmont, Liberty, and Morrill.