One of the most personal reasons I serve in the Maine Senate is to work on policies that benefit seniors. I was a Waldo County kid that left but eventually returned, mostly in order to be closer to my family, especially my grandparents. Throughout my life, they cheered me on at every turn, from high school track meets to my college years, first job and decision to run for office.

As a kid, I didn’t think about the parts of life that would become difficult for them but only what ice cream treats were in their freezer. It was later that I started to understand the things my grandparents would struggle with, the barriers all Maine seniors face to live a healthy and dignified life.

Too many Maine seniors lack access to the health care they need, cannot afford their prescriptions or struggle to pay their property taxes. Housing can be unavailable, money tight. Social Security and Medicare are indispensable, but even with these programs, many people are still struggling. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes are often costly, leaving loved ones at home trying to make ends meet. And those are the lucky cases when a facility is available.

Many facilities can’t take any more residents because they don’t have enough direct care workers. We have the resources to provide all those who need it with direct care — such as dressing, bathing and eating — but we just don’t have the workers. Each week in Maine, 6,000 hours of direct care, which is already funded and approved, goes unused because of our workforce shortage. As a result, family members essentially have to take on second jobs caring for their loved ones, or folks just don’t get the care they need.

These are some of the challenges that our seniors face, too often alone or hidden from view. Seniors are integral to our communities — donating their time and money, bringing families together and showering their kids and grandkids with endless love and encouragement. Serving in the Senate, I try to return the favor, working on policies that support seniors throughout Maine.

In addition to my regular legislative and committee work, I chair the Legislature’s Caucus on Aging, which develops legislation that will positively impact older Mainers. We had some big wins this year. We passed two laws to encourage senior-friendly housing, and a third that allows spouses who are caregivers for disabled loved ones to be reimbursed through MaineCare. We increased funding for Meals on Wheels, helping more seniors access high-quality home-cooked meals for free. And we provided $130 million in property tax relief, benefiting all Mainers who pay property taxes.

The biennial budget increased eligibility for Medicare Savings and the Maine Low Cost Drug Program for the Elderly and Disabled, which help seniors afford health care and prescription medications. We also passed new laws to lower the cost of prescriptions and we mandated that insurance companies in Maine cover the cost of hearing aids.

This month, Senate President Troy Jackson appointed me to chair the Commission to Study Long-term Care Workforce Issues. In this capacity, I’ll get to work on our shortage of direct care workers. The commission will consider how to get more people to work in long-term care, address the education needs of these workers, break down barriers to hiring and improve the quality of our long-term care jobs. I’m hopeful that our work will help address these issues and get seniors the care they deserve.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at 287-1515 or Erin.Herbig@legislature.maine.gov. It’s an honor to serve as your state senator.

Sen. Herbig is serving her first term in the Maine Senate, representing the 26 towns of Waldo County. She lives in Belfast .