Friday, June 1, 2018

Investing in our future by Rep. Jessica Fay

When we craft budgets at both the local and state level we must prioritize carefully. As stewards of our precious tax dollars, elected officials must make difficult decisions. Sometimes those decisions are made piece by piece, and because of the way the process works, taking the long view about how decisions today will impact the future of our communities can be challenging.

It takes vision and leadership to look past the next year or two to consider what our needs will be in the future and to plan for those needs. When people in the community engage in the process and begin to advocate for budgets that support programs that benefit all of us, policymakers have the impetus to address those issues.

Like municipalities across the state, towns in the Sebago Lakes Region have the opportunity to invest in our economic future by supporting policies that make our communities more livable for older people and all of us. In Raymond, 50 percent of our residents are over the age of 50 and 25 percent are over 62; now is the time to plan for our future. When we include services for older adults in our budgets, everyone benefits.

As a member of the Maine Legislature’s Caucus on Aging, I have learned a great deal about what we can do in the state and our local communities to plan for our future.

By encouraging communities that are more livable for older people, we improve it for everyone. Safer more walkable streets and access to transportation means that those who don’t drive or choose not to, still have a way to get where they need to go for health and well-being, as well as social interaction. Access to food locally, either through Meals-on-Wheels, farms, food pantries or shopping, means that it’s easier for people to stay in the community instead of moving. Making sure we all have the social interaction and supports that we need to be healthy and participate in whatever way we choose, means that our towns can thrive.

When we invest in technology infrastructure like broadband, in addition to encouraging growth and diversity in our local economy, we can improve the quality of life for all of us. Through advances in telemedicine, people can stay in their homes when in the past they may have had to be hospitalized. Seniors connected through high speed internet can participate in life long learning, stay better connected to family that isn’t nearby, and continue to participate in the workforce. older population has so much knowledge and valuable work experience. By creative utilization of that valuable experience, businesses could improve their workforce. Partnering retirees with those who are still learning can help teach the skills necessary to do many of the jobs available in our area. Through mentoring partnerships, business could benefit from the understanding of work ethic, soft and hard skills of those who have spent a lifetime learning.

When we look at vibrant healthy communities where people want to live and work, we see some common threads: people have social engagement, economic possibility, access to services that help us participate and age together, and recognition of the value that public policy can contribute to our well-being as we age. Traditional community values of caring for our neighbors can and should be part of our long-term planning. For those of us who are looking forward to spending the rest of our days in the Sebago Lakes Region, looking ahead so that we have the social and physical infrastructure in place to support all of us as we age will be key.

The Raymond Age Friendly Community Connection Initiative is beginning an assessment which will give us a handle on the attitudes and needs of older people, families and caregivers in our area. By better understanding the needs of our neighbors, we will be able to target our resources to meet those needs. This will be a long-term project and hopefully everyone will participate.

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