February 23, 2024

Cooper declares candidacy for Maine House 107 seat

By Ed Pierce

Lifelong resident Mark Cooper has announced his candidacy for the Maine House of Representatives District 107 as a Republican and says he intends to be a strong voice for Windham voters if elected.

Mark Cooper of Windham, a local building
contactor and farmer, has declared his
candidacy as a Republican for the Maine
House of Representatives District 107,
serving part of Windham.
SUBMITTED PHOTO  
Cooper, 60, is a local building contractor and farmer, and has decided to harness his experience in farming and in business for the benefit of the community.

“I believe in a common-sense approach to legislation and fiscal responsibility,” Cooper said. “As a small business owner working for a living, I understand the financial implications of wasteful government spending policies. I enjoy working with others to obtain workable and sensible solutions. I firmly believe Maine should be taking care of Mainers as a priority.”

Along with his wife Gaylene, Cooper has operated his family farm and accompanying businesses for over 40 years on Chute Road and says in that time he has seen a lot of changes in Windham.

“I love that Windham has become a place where more people want to live. It’s a testament to our schools, our local businesses, and our community leaders that we are doing something right, but I do think we need to look at how we are approaching this growth,” Cooper said. “I talk to a lot of seniors that have been priced out of their homes. I know there are too many folks in town who have had to sell family properties because the taxes are just too high. I’d like to be able to be able to help the town government connect with the state government to see where we might be able to make things a little easier on folks that are struggling to stay in their homes.”

A 1981 graduate of Windham High School, Cooper went on to earn an associate degree from the University of New Hampshire. He and Gaylene are the parents of sons Craig Cooper and his partner Amanda Larrabee and Eric Cooper and his wife Lauren, and they are the grandparents of Brian and Reagan.

His family business interests include L C Cooper Co Inc., a building contractor operation now in its 54th year in business and third generation. The Cooper family farming businesses include Coopers Maple products, Coopers Greenhouse, Coopers Royal Heritage Farm miniature horses and American Aberdeen cattle. Mark and Gaylene also work with Mark’s parents’ farm, Cooper Charolais Farm & Apiary, including beef cattle and a beekeeping operation.

“Windham has been home to my family for three generations, and we take pride in being able to live and work in this community, to employ a fair number of folks in Windham, and to contribute to the economy” Cooper said. “Serving in the State Legislature feels like a way to bring our experience in farming and in business to the larger statewide conversation about where Maine is headed. Right now, I’ve got some major concerns. The Maine State Legislature currently needs a serious infusion of common sense and logical thinking.”

According to Cooper, the current Democratic-controlled government is running blindly unchecked and turning Maine into “California of the East.”

Through his years of farming, Cooper has been actively involved in several trade and industry associations, including serving as Director and Superintendent of the Cumberland Fair, Director for the Maine Maple Producers Association, President of the Maine Miniature Horse Club, President of the Maine Beef Producers Association, Cumberland County Farm Bureau, and a member of former Maine Gov. John R. McKernan Jr.’s Ag Advisory Committee.

Cooper said that the economy, inflation, and financial pressure are the major concerns Windham voters are expressing to him.

“Many of the working families are feeling the effects of rising inflation and cost of living increasing faster than income,” Cooper said. “Basic needs including food, electricity, heating, and property taxes are escalating rapidly. Maine residents should not have to make a choice between buying groceries, heating their home, or paying their taxes.”

He said he’s looking forward to the campaign and will work hard to represent the best interests of Windham residents if he’s elected.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new neighbors and reconnecting with old friends over the next nine months,” Cooper said. “I’m hoping to put together a big team, so if you’d like to be a part of the campaign, please send us an email at GMCooper81@aol.com. Yes, I still have an AOL account so please don’t hold that against me as you consider supporting our campaign.” <

Loon Echo Land Trust conserves 400-acre site in Casco

Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT) is happy to announce the permanent conservation of 400 acres of undeveloped forestland in Casco, known as Rolfe Hill. After a multi-year fundraising effort, LELT purchased the property in late January from members of the Rolfe and Speirs families, whose ownership dates back to the 1790s.

Some 400 acres of undeveloped forestland in Casco known
as Rolfe Hill has been conserved by the Loon Echo Land
Trust. PHOTO BY MATTHEW TROGNER
Rolfe Hill has a long history of public access for recreation and hunting and hosts the “Que 5” snowmobile and ATV trail. Now owned by LELT, public access to the property for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreational activities is permanently secured.

“The Rolfe and Speirs families were stewards of this land for over 200 years, and we are grateful to them for allowing public use on the old farm roads and trails. We are thrilled that Rolfe Hill, enjoyed by many for snowmobiling, hunting, cross country skiing, and horseback riding, is now protected from development,” said LELT Board Member and Casco resident Connie Cross.

The Rolfe Hill area is identified in the Town of Casco’s Open Space Plan for its significant ecological and recreational importance for residents. The land is home to over 60 acres of wetlands, vernal pools, and a trout stream.

Located just half a mile from LELT’s Hacker’s Hill Preserve on Quaker Ridge Road, Rolfe Hill is an important addition to the region’s network of conserved lands.

“The Rolfe Hill property has been on LELT’s radar for a long time,” said LELT Executive Director Matt Markot. “Former Casco town manager Dave Morton was very aware of how important the property was to residents and was a big supporter of seeing the land conserved. We’re proud to be a part of the Casco community and work on behalf of its residents to make sure the lands they have used and loved will remain open for generations to come.”

LELT has plans to improve access to Rolfe Hill through the construction of a parking area and non-motorized trail network. The conservation organization will pay property taxes to the Town of Casco.

Located in an area of increasing development pressure, the 400-acre property plays an important role in safeguarding the water quality of Sebago Lake, which is the source of drinking water for over 200,000 Mainers and many Cumberland County businesses on a daily basis. Sebago Lake is so clean, thanks in large part to its forested watershed, that it is one of 50 surface water supplies (out of over 13,000) in the country that is not required to be filtered.

Rolfe Hill was identified by the conservation partnership Sebago Clean Waters (SCW) as a high priority for protection. SCW is a coalition of ten nonprofit partners, including LELT, working with the Portland Water District to accelerate the pace of land conservation in the Sebago Lake watershed to protect water quality, community well-being, a vibrant economy, and fish and wildlife habitat.

“This forestland is a vital community resource, not only for the recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat it provides, but also for its important role in keeping Greater Portland’s water supply clean,” said SCW Partnership Director Karen Young. “Working with LELT to conserve this property furthers our mission of protecting the watershed and building collaborative capacity across the region.”

The land is within the traditional and unceded territory of the Abenaki, a member tribe of the Wabanaki Confederacy. The Abenaki First Nations of Odanak and W├┤linak maintain reservations along the St. Francis and St. Lawrence Rivers in the Canadian province of Quebec, where they sought refuge following colonial warfare in the Saco, Presumpscot, and Androscoggin River watersheds during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The property was conserved with financial assistance from the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program (MNRCP). MNRCP was created to manage the allocation of funds collected through Maine’s In Lieu Fee Compensation Program, and awards competitive grants to projects that restore and protect high priority aquatic resources throughout Maine. Additional funders for the project include The Nature Conservancy, Portland Water District, onX Maps, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Sebago Clean Waters, Davis Conservation Foundation, Ram Island Conservation Fund, The Conservation Fund in partnership with the Stifler Family Foundation, an anonymous foundation, and Lake Region community members.

More information about Rolfe Hill can be found at lelt.org/rolfe-hill.

Loon Echo Land Trust, founded in 1987, is a nonprofit organization that protects land, ensures public access to the outdoors, and builds and maintains recreational trails in Raymond, Casco, Naples, Harrison, Sebago, Bridgton, and Denmark. The organization currently conserves over 9,000 acres of land and manages a 35-mile trail network across the Lake Region. LELT protects many important local landmarks like Pleasant Mountain, Bald Pate Mountain, Raymond Community Forest, and Hacker’s Hill. For more information on LELT properties, upcoming events, or how to get involved, visit LELT.org or their Facebook page.

Sebago Clean Waters is a partnership of 10 local, regional, and national conservation organizations and the Portland Water District working collaboratively to protect water quality, community well-being, a vibrant economy, and fish and wildlife habitat in the Sebago region through voluntary forest conservation and stewardship. Learn more at sebagocleanwaters.org. <

Road postings in place to avoid frost heave damage

By Ed Pierce

A total of 49 roads within the Town of Raymond have been posted for frost heaves this season by the Raymond Public Works Director.

Towns all across Maine begin posting roads
with vehicle weight limits when the ground
gets soft to avoid destruction of the 
pavement and subsurface.
COURTESY PHOTO  
The road restriction is for trucks weighing more than 23,000 pounds and is effective from Feb. 20 until May 1, 2024. Trucks exceeding the weight limit and not exempted by town ordinance must be cleared to travel over a posted road if conditions warrant.

Raymond Public Works Director Nathan White said that Routes 85, 121, 302 and Egypt Road in Raymond are exempt from the restrictions because they are state-maintained roads.

Frost heave damage to roadways is caused by an upward movement of pavement resulting from the expansion of trapped water beneath the roadway surface. Considerable frost heaves can produce permanent damage to roads and crack pavement surfaces with differing levels of severity. Distresses attributed to frost heaves can impact road surface quality and are unpredictable and costly for towns and municipalities to repair.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation, as spring temperatures warm and the ground thaws, the soil situated beneath roadway pavement becomes saturated with water, making it unstable and leaving many roads unable to support heavy loads and putting them at risk for damage.

Typically, a road that can easily handle a 15-ton weight truck in summer or winter months may only be able to handle a 5-ton load during spring thawing.

MDOT says a posted road’s maximum weight limit is 23,000 pounds and it’s a temporary measure that’s designed to protect roads in vulnerable conditions.

The costs pf repairing or rebuilding a road damaged by a frost heave can be substantial, running as much as into the tens of thousands per mile in some cases.

When the ground begins to thaw and materials beneath roadway surfaces are saturated with moisture, travel over these roads by heavy vehicles exceeding 23,000 pounds also can cause cracking, potholes, and rutting.

Roads in Raymond that have been posted include Ball Drive; Brown Road; Canal Road; Cape Road; Caton Road; Chapel Street; Conesca Road; County Road; Crockett Road; David Plummer Road; Deep Cove Road; Dolimount Road; Dyer Road; Elizabeth Avenue; Frye Road; Gay Street; Giselle Avenue; Gore Road and Harmon Road.

Also posted are Ledge Hill Road; Lloyds Lane; Lyn Court; Mailman Road; Main Street; Martin Heights; McDermott Road; Mill Street; Mountain Road; North Raymond Road; Panther Pond Pines; Patricia Avenue; Peterson Road; Pine Lane; Pipeline Road; Plains Road; Pond Road; Presidential View; Raymond Hill Road; Ridge Road; Salmon Run; Shaker Woods Road; Shaw Road; Spiller Hill Road; Tarkiln Hill Road; Tassel Top Drive; Tenny Hill Road; Valley Road; Wawenock Road; and Westview Drive.

The posted roads may have restrictions lifted earlier should weather conditions warrant. 

The Town of Windham has not yet announced their road postings for this season but is expected to release that information in the next few weeks.<

Nangle introduces bill to help communities protect local water resources

AUGUSTA – State Senator Tim Nangle, D-Windham, has introduced a bill to give municipalities more tools to enforce shoreland zone violations and protect local waters.

State Senator Tim Nangle
Nangle's proposal, LD 2101, called “An Act to Strengthen Shoreland Zoning Enforcement,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Maine Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on State and Local Government earlier this month.

“The support and insightful testimony we received at the public hearing show how necessary it is to equip our towns with the tools they need to enforce shoreland zoning standards effectively,” Nangle said. “This legislation is a critical advancement in empowering local governments and keeping our drinking water free of harmful chemicals. I was pleased to see folks from communities across our state make their voice heard on this vital issue.”

The LD 2101 bill would allow, but not require, municipalities to restrict, suspend, or revoke locally issued permits to property owners who violate shoreland zoning ordinances.

Under current and existing law, even with ongoing violations, municipalities are required to issue permits, limiting their ability to ensure compliance with state and locally established regulations.

Additionally, this new bill proposed by Nangle permits the placement of a lien on properties with violations to prevent the transfer of said properties, ensuring that municipalities have the financial support they need to enforce the laws that protect community waterfronts.

“In most cases, Maine’s shoreland zoning law is having a very positive impact on our lakes, but to prevent violations like those that occurred in Raymond on Sebago Lake, the law needs to be better enforced,” said Whitney Baker on behalf of 30 Mile River Watershed Association. “We now have an opportunity to empower our communities, and the local [Code Enforcement Officers] doing this important work, to stand up to shoreland violators, hold them accountable, and reverse the ethic of law-breaking behavior that has taken hold on many shorefronts throughout our state.”

According to Nangle, enforcing shoreland zoning law is particularly evident when towns attempt to uphold local- and state-mandated environmental standards.

“The current legal structure prevents towns from withholding permits for further development, even when property owners ignore these crucial regulations. This means an offending property owner can keep building and changing their property while ignoring the laws that protect our state's precious natural resources,’ Nangle said. “My bill, LD 2101, would allow a local municipality to restrict, suspend, or revoke any locally issued permit to the property and property owner where the violation has occurred. Notably, a town would not be required to impose these restrictions; it would be at the town's discretion. This would prevent the property owner from working to complete any renovations or continue work on the property until the violation has been resolved.”

Typically, when a shoreland zoning violation is resolved through legal remedies, the court assigns the cost of enforcing the violation and any applicable fines to the property owner. Then, in some cases, another struggle ensues between the violator and the town to collect those costs, which Nangle says places another undue burden on taxpayers in the town. The second part of LD 2101 allows the city or town to place a lien on the property’s title to prevent the transfer of the property until the court-determined costs have been paid.

Nangle’s bill will face further action in committee. <          

 

February 16, 2024

Windham Town Council discusses senior housing proposal

By Ed Pierce

Discussions between the Windham Town Manager and the developer of a proposed new senior affordable housing project off Angler’s Road may result in significant changes to the development and the creation of a special Tax Increment Financing District for the site.

Members of the Windham Town Council participate in a 
discussion about a proposed senior housing project behind
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church during a meeting on
Tuesday evening. From left are Councilors Bill Reiner,
Jarrod Maxfield, Mark Morrison, and Nick Kalogerakis.
PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 
During Tuesday evening’s Windham Town Council meeting, councilors and members of the public participated in a discussion regarding the project which is situated behind Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, which owns the site and has contracted with a developer who is proposing to build a 24-unit structure on the site. The potential development also led to an outcry of opposition from nearby residents, who say it is the wrong site for such a project because it sits on top of the aquifer.

The area also lies within Windham’s Farm Zone and to gain approval for the scope of the project, zoning and many other issues would need to be resolved such as building height, lighting, and water quality.

Barry Tibbetts, Windham Town Manager, told councilors that he became involved after hearing concerns from residents about the project.

“There are a number of issues to be addressed before anything could be done with that site,” Tibbetts said. “There’s the proposed building height, the setback, water quality, the impacts of lighting, noise concerns, traffic, and its architectural features.”

A compromise solution could be found by working within the framework of the existing Farm Zoning, creating a TIF and modifying the proposal by changing the building height to 35 feet and the setback to 150 feet in keeping with current zoning rules. The modification would also include creating 42 one-bedroom apartments instead of 24 duplexes.

“We looked at how this building fits within the neighborhood and showed the developer how creating a senior housing TIF would be beneficial,” Tibbetts said. “For us, this is really about the TIF and if we as a community want to put a TIF on this property.”

The project itself would take about two years to complete because of engineering, site evaluations, financing and approval from the Windham Planning Board, Tibbetts said.

Councilors also listened to the concerns of residents and abutters during the meeting.

Annie and Mike Swisko of Windham said they downsized a few years ago and sold their home to live in a townhouse. They said more senior housing is needed in town and like the idea of creating a TIF for senior affordable housing, but they thought that two-bedroom units would be better.

Several residents on Angler’s Road voiced concerns about development in the area in general, the aquifer, and said they wondered if this was the right type of project for that site.

Barry Bernard, who lives on Shore Road in Windham, said he’s happy to hear that the developer is open to modifying the plan which was first proposed last fall, and he realizes development at that site is going to happen eventually one way or the other.

“My preference is no development at all but I’m not a not-in-my backyard type of person,” he said. “I don’t want 24 duplexes going in there, that would be horrendous. I would much rather see the footprint of 42 single bedrooms going in there.”

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield thanked residents for expressing their concerns about the project.

“It’s great to see members of the community and the town work together to find something that will work,” Maxfield said. “I will support this TIF decision and believe it will help pave the way for a better project.”

Councilor Bill Reiner said he’s optimistic that addressing these issues now will result in a better solution for everyone concerned.

“This is a great compromise between residents, the town, and the developer to address a growing need in the community.” Reiner said.

A public hearing about creating a Senior Housing TIF will be conducted at a Windham Town Council meeting in March. <

In the public eye: Manchester School teacher inspires students to love reading

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce


Meg Sparrow believes that a great teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, wonder, and wisdom in her students and it’s what she does every day in her duties as a Fifth-Grade classroom teacher at Manchester School in Windham.

Meg Sparrow has taught fifth
grade at Manchester School
in Windham since 2017 and
shares her love for reading
on a daily basis with 
her students.
SUBMITTED PHOTO
Sparrow has taught at Manchester School since 2017 and says that sharing her love of reading with her students makes a difference.

“So many kids start fifth grade saying that they don’t like books,” Sparrow said. “I love that I can share my love of reading with them. Some of my favorite books we read are ‘ReStart,’ ‘Hoot,’ and ‘The City of Ember.’ I really enjoy getting students engaged and excited about reading. Students are always begging to read just a little bit more and at the end of the book I’m so happy to hear that they loved the book.”

Among her duties are reviewing important student data in areas such as academic, attendance, and behavior and student work to inform and create lesson plans, including intervention and enrichment. She also grades assignments, collects and shares evidence of student learning, accumulates data and perspectives, collaborates with Manchester School staff to develop and implement authentic, engaging units of instruction.

She also creates and promotes meaningful relationships with students and families while fostering a sense of belonging, engages in work that improves student academic learning and outcomes, communicates with families, and actively engages in professional learning communities.

The job is challenging, and Sparrow said that is because there are such varying differences among all her students.

“Each student has unique strengths, interests, and backgrounds. As a teacher, I want to make sure that I tailor every lesson in a way that every student feels engaged and can participate in a meaningful way,” she said. “This requires a deep understanding of each student, constant adaptation, and the ability to meet the needs of each individual student.”

According to Sparrow, the greatest misconception people may have about her work is that some think that teachers can just use the same lessons year after year.

“This is not true because students’ needs change from year to year. Modifying instruction to meet the needs of a diverse student body is a huge responsibility that I take seriously,” she said. “Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all profession and I’m not just a teacher imparting knowledge, but I act as a mentor and role model for my fifth graders, preparing them for the challenges of the future. Every day is different, and I always need to be able to think on my feet and adapt when necessary. As teachers, we’re always thinking about our students and teaching, and it doesn’t stop when the school day ends. The ongoing dedication beyond school hours are important aspects of the teaching profession that many do not understand. Teaching is a multifaceted and demanding profession.”

Sparrow grew up in New Jersey and went to college at the University of New Hampshire where she majored in Family Studies and minored in Education. After earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine, she worked as a preschool teacher for a few years after college.

“I was an Education Tech for a middle and high school in Cumberland and North Yarmouth,’ Sparow said. “I worked as a classroom teacher for grades 3-5 in Freeport for six years before I moved to Windham and took time off to have children. After I had children, I took a break from teaching to stay home and raise them. When my youngest was 2 1/2, I decided it was time to go back to teaching. I was really eager to teach in the same town that I live in because I wanted to be close to my children and an active part of the community.”

She said that her husband and kids are very supportive of her teaching career and her two daughters love that their mom is a teacher at school with them.

The most important thing she says she’s learned while working for Manchester School is that it truly does take a village to educate amazing kids.

“We all work together to create a safe, engaging, and nurturing environment for the student body,” Sparrow said. “It is a collaborative effort by all employees of the school district, the families, and community.” <

Altrusa celebrates six years of providing WPS kindergarten students with ‘Forever’ books

By Masha Yurkevich

Introducing children to reading is a very important step to their development. Unfortunately, not all children have access to books, which is something that International Altrusa of Portland wants to overcome.

Windham Primary School kindergarten teacher Lindsey 
Pettus and her students show off some of the books they
have received thanks to the generosity of the Portland
Altrusa Club and club president Wanda Pettersen of
Windham, right. SUBMITTED PHOTO 
Altrusa is a social club that provides services to the community in the areas of literacy, fellowship and leadership development and the Portland club places a special focus on literacy.

As a non-profit organization, Altrusa focuses on community service and for the last six years, Altrusa volunteers have been coming to Windham Primary School kindergarten classrooms to read to the children and let each of them choose a “forever” book to take home.

Wanda Pettersen of Windham is the president of the Portland Altrusa Club. She recently retired and used to work for Cumberland County government and joined Altrusa through a friend of hers who is also part of Altrusa and suggested to Petterson that she should become part of the team. While Pettersen has been with Altrusa for more than two years, she is serving her second year as president.

“The kids are great, it’s so much fun to be with them,” says Pettersen. “It brings joy to know that this child has a book and that they can bring it home and can read it to their parents or siblings or show them the pictures. It’s very heartfelt.”

She fell in love with the program.

“Our focus at the Portland Altrusa Club is literacy, introducing books and stories to children who are just learning to read or just learning to look at books,” says Pettersen. “There are some children who have books at home and hopefully have someone who can read to them, but there are also children who don’t have any books at home. We hope to reach each and every child so that they can be curious about books.”

Pettersen works with WPS teacher Lindsey Pettus, who has been with Windham Primary School for 12 years where she is a kindergarten teacher and Team Leader.

“We were introduced to Altrusa about six years ago,” says Pettus. “Over the past six years that they have been coming to our school, they have given around 1,200 free books to our students. They also come in and read to the students before giving out their books, sharing their love of literacy. The students are always so excited to choose a forever book to take home and add to their collection. It is a great way to promote a love of literacy for our youngest learners.”

Pettus was introduced to Pettersen when they started collaborating with Altrusa because of Pettus’ role as a team leader.

Altrusa used to only ask volunteers to read for Portland and South Portland schools, but Pettersen, being a resident of Windham, spoke with Dr. Kyle Rhoads, WPS principal and then got in contact with Pettus.

“Together she and I have coordinated the visits for all of our kindergarten classes each year,” says Pettus. “During the pandemic we did a recorded ‘virtual visit’ and then distributed the books to the students.”

Altrusa has books donated at Books A Million and then schedules their guest readers who come and read to students and let them choose a book to keep.

“After the reading, we let the children go around a table and choose a book to take home,” says Pettersen. “We stress that this is not a library book, you don’t need to bring it back, it’s yours to keep. We started to call them ‘Forever’ books because some of the children were kept repeating that they get to keep the book forever.”

The Altrusa and WPS initiative remains strong.

“This has been a wonderful partnership for our school over the years,” says Pettus. “The kindergarten students love having guest readers to read them a story and they are thrilled with the beautiful selection of books and getting to choose one to keep.”

If there are any non-profits in the area that need books or would like more information on what Altrusa offers, Pettersen encourages them to reach out to her.

“We love giving books to non-profits. If anyone needs books, there is a form on our website — https://www.altrusaportland.org/request-books.html — which you can fill out,” says Pettersen.

Altrusa also partners with different food programs and pantries and partners with Cricket Comforts when they put together pillowcases for the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, which Altrusa has been doing for the past few years.

“We also put an empty bowl for Project Feed,” says Pettersen. “It’s a lot of different community service, but our main focus is literacy.”

The Portland Altrusa Club is celebrating their 95th birthday this year and hopes to reach many more local students and spark their interest in reading books. <

Maine Legislature advances Fay bill to protect internet subscribers

AUGUSTA – The Maine House of Representatives gave initial approval last week to new legislation sponsored by State Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, to ensure that Maine consumers would not have to pay for unused internet services.

State Rep. Jessica Fay
Fay’s bill, LD 1932, would require an internet service provider to allow for a credit or rebate for unused internet services if a customer makes such a request within a 60-day period after the end of their billing period.

“When a consumer cancels their service early in a billing cycle, they are on the hook for paying for an entire month, even if they are required to return equipment, like modems,” said Fay. “Internet service is an expensive necessity for work, for school, for communication and for us to stay connected. Companies charging for services not provided can place a burden on families and older people. LD 1932 would ensure that Mainers can be refunded a portion of their bill in which they don’t receive service.”

During the 129th Maine Legislature, Fay supported a similar measure which is now law, requiring cable companies to provide a prorated credit when service is cancelled by a subscriber. Her new proposal, LD 1932, would ensure that internet providers are treated similarly.

The bill now faces further votes in the Maine House and Maine Senate in the coming days.

State Rep. Jessica Fay is the Maine House chair of its Government Oversight Committee and also a member of the House Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. She serves the community members of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, and part of Poland in her duties as a legislator. <

February 9, 2024

MaineDOT releases timeline for local Three-Year Plan projects

By Ed Pierce

Maine Department of Transportation has unveiled its list of road and bridge projects for the next three years with sites in Windham and Raymond on the schedule.

Funding for a project to replace the surface of Great Falls
Bridge over the Presumpscot River on Windham Center
Road is listed in MaineDOT's new Three-Year Plan. The
work is estimated to cost $55,000 and is scheduled
for later this year. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
According to MaineDOT Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note, the state’s Three-Year Plan is the primary way the department delivers on its mission to support economic opportunity and quality of life by responsibly providing residents with the safest and most reliable transportation system possible, given available resources. The new plan contains 2,672 individual work items statewide with a total value of $4.74 billion.

“We are grateful that policymakers came together, recognized the benefits of infrastructure investments, and worked in a bipartisan way to deliver significant steps forward for transportation," Van Note said. "This will help us continue a pivot from making do to making real progress."

He said that at the federal level, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed in November 2021 has allowed MaineDOT to compete for special funding in the form of competitive discretionary grant programs and Congressionally Directed Spending. With thoughtful grant applications and the continued support of the state’s congressional delegation, federal transportation funding coming to Maine should more than double from pre-BIL levels. At the state level, the governor and legislators unanimously supported a state Highway Fund budget in June 2023 that took a significant step toward addressing the chronic underfunding of transportation.

Van Note said these expanded and new ongoing funding sources could not have come at a better time, given reduced fuel tax revenue projections, opportunities to use state funding to increase federal funding, and the need for state-funded capital projects.

"Transportation will always be a big job in Maine, and challenges will always exist, but now is the time for MaineDOT and its partners to ramp up and deliver," said Van Note. "We can make a real difference with this Work Plan. That is both invigorating and uplifting."

Local road maintenance funding to be provided to Windham for 2024 is $303,480, while MaineDOT will provide $61,496 in local road funding to Raymond.

Here is a rundown of upcoming local projects, estimated costs and the year scheduled for work that are included in the new statewide Three-Year Plan.

WINDHAM

** Route 302 beginning 0.45 of a mile west of Outpost Drive and extending west 0.14 of a mile, including the roundabout intersection with Route 202. Construction/Rehabilitation Urban Highways Intersection, Estimated Funding $1.27 million, work to be performed in 2024.

** Route 302/Albion Road at the intersection of Route 302 and Albion Road. Highway Safety and Spot Improvements, Intersection Improvements with a signal, Estimated Funding $626,000, work to be performed in 2025.

** Loveitt Bridge over the Pleasant River located 0.13 of a mile north of Laskey Road. Bridge Deck Replacement, Estimated Funding $1.72 million, work to be performed in 2025.

** Varney's Bridge over the Pleasant River. Located 0.43 of a mile from Route 4 on William Knight Road. Bridge Replacement, Estimated Funding $1.64 million, work to be performed in 2024.

** New construction of Bicycle/Pedestrian Off-Road Trail/Path for the Mountain Division Line beginning at Bridge Street in Westbrook to the Route 202 crossing in Windham. Estimated Funding $450,000, work to be performed in 2026.

** Route 35/Route 115/Route 302 creation of East Connector Road, Middle Connector Road, Route 302 improvements and Route 115 and Route 35 improvements. Project includes a new roadway from Franklin Drive and extending south to Route 115. Estimated Funding $38.2 million, work to be performed starting in 2024.

** Great Falls Bridge over the Presumpscot River located 0.04 of a mile east of the Gorham town line on Windham Center Road. Bridge Wearing Surface Replacement, Estimated Funding $55,000, work to be performed in 2024.

** Route 115/Route 202 beginning 0.07 of a mile west of the Gray town line and extending east 0.08 of a mile. On Route 202 beginning about 0.04 of a mile north of River Road and extending north for 7.98 miles. Highway Paving Ultra-Thin Bonded Wearing. Estimated Funding $55,000, work to be performed in 2025.

** Beginning at Depot Street and extending north 0.74 of a mile. Work Highway Paving Ultra-Thin Bonded Wearing. Estimated Funding $23,400, work to be performed in 2024.

** Route 202 beginning 0.01 of a mile south of Swett Road and extending north 0.57 of a mile. Highway Safety and Spot Improvements. Estimated Funding $255,000, worked to be performed in 2026.

For 2023, Van Note said the following roadway projects were completed in Windham:

One bridge was sealed; nine bridges were washed; 0.10 tons of patch applied; six Emergency Event Responses; 111.60 miles of striping applied; 0.30 shoulder miles of sweeping; six drainage structures were cleaned; 1,200 linear feet of brush was removed; three bridge inspections performed; 100 linear feet of backhoe ditching; 650 linear feet of shoulder rebuilt; 266 square feet of pavement legend applied; 12 person hours of traffic signal maintenance; six square feet of bridge wearing surface repaired; 8.50 shoulder miles of litter and debris removal; 100 square feet of bridge curb or sidewalk repaired; and 160 linear feet of bridge rail repaired or replaced.

RAYMOND


** Capital improvements to the Frye Island Ferry Service between Raymond and Frye Island. Estimated Funding $311,000, work to be performed in 2025.

** General multimodal improvements to the Frye Island Ferry between Raymond and Frye Island. Estimated Funding $389,000, work to be performed in 2024 and 2026.

** Route 302 installation of backplates with yellow reflective strips and supplemental signal heads for Highway Safety and Spot Improvements. Estimated Funding $574,000, work to be performed in 2024.

For 2023, Van Note said the following roadway projects were completed in Raymond:

Five trees removed; three bridges washed; 3.80 tons of patch applied; 27.80 Emergency Event Responses; 56.80 miles of striping applied; 10 miles of shoulder graded; 36.40 shoulder miles of sweeping; five drainage structures cleaned; 480 linear feet of brush removed; 816 linear feet of shoulder rebuilt; 1,042 square feet of pavement legend applied; 41.70 shoulder miles of herbicide applied; and 32 person hours of traffic signal maintenance. <

Valentine’s Day origins hold special meaning across the globe

By Ed Pierce

By tradition, Valentine's Day is celebrated as a day in which people express their love to one another by presenting their loved one with gifts, such as cards, candy, flowers and other symbols of love or affection.

More than 58 million pounds of
chocolates are purchased for
Valentine's Day as gifts every
year worldwide. 
COURTESY PHOTO 
Through the years, the origins of St. Valentine, for whom the day is named, say that he was a Catholic clergyman who was executed for secretly marrying couples in ancient Rome. There are several stories about the origin of February 14 being celebrated as Valentine's Day.

The romantic holiday, according to Brittanica Encyclopedia, originated from the Roman festival of Lupercalia where men and women were paired with each other through a lottery draw. The festival also included rites where women were hit by men, allegedly to boost their fertility. Britannica says by the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced the festival with St. Valentine's Day.

Other versions claim the festival of love is named after a martyred saint called Valentine who was killed by King Claudius II Gothicus. As per other accounts, the holiday was named after St. Valentine who secretly married off couples to spare their husbands from war.

It was only in the mid-16th century that formal Valentine's Day messages appeared.

The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards came into being in Ireland in the 1700s. They reached the United States by mid-1800s. Esther Howland of Massachusetts is thought to have come up with the notion of creating and selling the first Valentine’s Day cards in America during the 1840s.

While greeting cards now bear all kinds of symbols like teddy bears, chocolates and diamonds, back in previous times, Valentines mostly depicted "Cupid," the Roman god of love. But by 1913, St. Valentine's Day was forever changed as Hallmark Cards started mass producing Valentine's Day cards in Kansas City, Missouri.

The day, with its origins in Christianity, is now celebrated world over by people of many religions. With romance all around, many couples also use the special day to propose marriage to each other.

Through the centuries, what began as a Catholic holy day evolved into a day to exchange love messages, and St. Valentine became known as the patron saint of lovers.

That simple expression of love and care for others endures to this very day as one of the highlights of each school year for students is exchanging Valentine cards with their classmates.

Here are some other interesting facts regarding Valentine’s Day:

** As of 2023, about 85 percent of all Valentine’s Day cards sold in the United States are purchased by women.

** More than 73 percent of flower arrangements sold for Valentine’s Day are purchased by men.

** According to the U.S. Postal Service, Valentines Day is the second most popular day for sending a greeting card, trailing only Christmas.

** In 2023, Americans spent almost $26 billion for Valentine's Day gifts.

** Richard Cadbury of England created fancy heart-shaped boxes to boost sales of chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day in 1861.

** A total of 58 million pounds of Valentine’s Day chocolates are purchased worldwide every Valentine’s Day.

** Daniel Chase of the New England Confectionery Company is credited with inventing a press which could print messages onto treats called “Conversation Hearts” in 1866.

** Red roses were established as a Valentine’s Day tradition in the 17th century, when King Charles II of Sweden proclaimed them as the “flowers of love.”

** The most popular recipients of Valentine’s cards each year are schoolteachers, followed in order by children, mothers, parents, wives, and girlfriends.

** Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone, on Valentine's Day in 1876.

** The infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place in a parking garage in Chicago, Illinois on Feb. 14, 1929. Assailants dressed as policemen shot and killed seven members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang. The killers were never caught but were suspected to have been hired by crime bosses Bugsy Moran and Al Capone to eliminate their rivals.

** Of the 124.6 million families in the United States, it is estimated that about 43 million of them purchase Valentine’s Day flowers.

** In Greece to be awoken by a kiss on Valentine’s Day morning is considered lucky. <

Maine DHHS and Maine Hospital Association agree to reform MaineCare rates

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Maine Hospital Association have announced an agreement to reform hospital reimbursement rates to improve the health of Maine people.


Under the proposal, which will be included in the forthcoming supplemental budget proposal, every medical center in the state is estimated to receive roughly the same or higher reimbursement, based on information available in the fall of 2023. This proposal applies to all hospitals except for four psychiatric hospitals that are categorized differently under Medicaid.

Hospitals would become the latest major service area to undergo MaineCare’s award-winning process to ensure payment methodologies are data-driven, fair, consistent, informed by the public, and sufficient to promote access to quality care. The MaineCare rate reforms support high-quality health care for more than 400,000 Maine people and fair and sustainable reimbursement to Maine's health and social services providers, including hospitals.

Under the agreement provisions, hospitals would see improved reimbursement because the payments will better align with Medicare – a more consistent and fair approach to paying for outlier costs that relate to patient need – improved outpatient rates to encourage more community-based care when possible, and improved transparency and uniformity for similar hospitals across the reimbursement system as a whole. The agreement maximizes the available funding under federal payment limits and is subject to approval by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“This agreement helps MaineCare to move away from outdated and arbitrary rates and toward a uniform and fair system at a time when existing sources of ongoing revenue alone are not enough,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “We thank the Maine Hospital Association and its members for their partnership in developing and supporting this proposal that meets our shared goal of improving the health and quality of care for Maine residents.”

Maine Hospital Association officials agree.

“This proposal provides our members with needed Medicaid rate increases at a critical time,” said Steve Michaud, President of the Maine Hospital Association. “Drawing down additional federal Medicaid dollars helps hospitals and their caregivers, eases the burden of escalating costs on Mainers and businesses who are paying for care, and helps the Maine economy at the same time. We thank the Department of Health and Human Services for its partnership in developing this plan that supports the health of Maine people.”

Specifically, the set of initiatives in the supplemental budget:

** Support MaineCare rate reform for hospital inpatient and outpatient services by investing $90.3 million in federal and state dollars in State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2025, starting July 1, 2024;

** Finance most of this rate investment by increasing the hospital tax rate from 2.23 to 3.25 percent, raising $29.5 million in SFY 2025, starting January 1, 2025, to complement the Federal share of these MaineCare (Medicaid) payments; and

** Add $2.5 million of General Funds to the $6.3 million already in the FY24-25 biennial budget to help with rate reform, including for a transitional payment to assist York Hospital, which has a unique grandfathered funding structure, in moving to the new system consistent with all other acute care hospitals in the state. This payment to York Hospital is targeted, based on data shared with hospitals, to total $5.6 million annually for the next five years.

As part of rate reform, the plan would repeal both the tax on and supplemental payment to critical access hospitals effective December 31, 2024 while adjusting cost reimbursement from 109 to 104.5 percent starting on July 1, 2024.

Additionally, the budget proposal would direct that net hospital tax revenue be directed to the “Medical Care – Payments to Providers” program in the Department of Health and Human Services to be used for MaineCare hospital payments.

The agreement builds on MaineCare payment improvements to behavioral health providers, Federally qualified health centers, and for inpatient psychiatric and substance use care, which was implemented in July 2023 with a similar transition payment to Northern Maine Medical Center.

The Department’s sweeping and unprecedented plan to transform MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program) rate setting from a fragmented, often outdated and arbitrary approach into a coherent, streamlined and data-driven system is well under way. The plan is a culmination of Governor Mills’ directive to DHHS on her first day in office to expand MaineCare and develop a plan to make the health coverage program for low-income people more accessible, affordable, and sustainable. <

Legislative committee advances Pringle's bill to remove barriers to patient care

AUGUSTA – A majority of members of the Maine Legislature’s Health Coverage Insurance and Financial Services Committee (HCIFS) voted last week to advance legislation sponsored by State Rep. Jane Pringle, D-Windham, that would ease the administrative burden of prior authorization on healthcare providers. The vote was seven to five among committee members present.

As amended, the bill would also direct the Bureau of Insurance to collect data from insurers about their use of prior authorizations, including the percentage of claims denied, appealed, upheld, and overturned. The data would be collected from 2021 to 2023 and then be reported to the HCIFS Committee in early January 2025.

“LD 796 would keep insurance companies honest, revealing whether they are truly delivering benefits to their patients as promised,” said Pringle. “Often, an insurance company’s ruling to approve prior authorization is based on medical evidence, but sometimes their reasoning is arbitrary and aims at reducing expenditures, rather than prioritizing the patient’s best interest.”
The bill would seek to ease the administrative burden of prior authorization for medical professionals and, ultimately, reduce costs and improve quality of care for patients.

The prior authorization system was established as a cost-control plan for private and public insurance companies to ensure that patient care remains cost-effective for the companies. It is up to the discretion of the organization to approve or disapprove the medical provider’s course of treatment. 

If the insurance company decides to deny prior authorization, it is left to health care staff to take on the clerical burden of advocating for their patients by appealing the decision.

The bill faces further votes in the Maine House and Maine Senate in the coming weeks.

State Rep. Jane Pringle is serving her second non-consecutive term in the Maine House and represents part of Windham in the legislature. She is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services. <

February 2, 2024

In the public eye: Manchester School teacher helps gifted students reach potential

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce


Jennifer Breton believes that gifted students should concentrate on learning and not worry about social adjustment and peer judgement so they will develop positive feelings about themselves and better self-esteem to maximize their abilities and reach their potential.

Jennifer Breton is the Fourth and Fifth grade
REACH teacher for gifted and talented students
at Manchester School in Windham, instructing
them in English and Language Arts and math for
both grades. She has taught at Manchester School 
since August 2005. SUBMITTED PHOTO
As the Fourth and Fifth Grade REACH teacher for gifted and talented students at Manchester School in Windham, Breton instructs formally identified gifted learners in English and Language Arts and Math for both grades. The REACH program at Manchester School is a daily pull-out program so students receive instruction from Breton in place of their regular classroom instruction in those two subject areas. She also teaches a fourth-grade math enrichment class.

Breton has taught at Manchester School since August 2005 and says the best part of her job is the relationships that she forms with her students and their families.

“Every day I am inspired and in awe of not only their academic abilities, but their genuine curiosity, huge hearts, and remarkable sense of humor,” Breton said. “I have these students for two years, so we develop a close bond filled with mutual respect. Their excitement, willingness to try new things, and creativity are heartwarming and motivate me daily. I love hearing from them as they go through school. My heart is happiest when they are reaching their potential and shining their bright lights. My joy comes from delivering the letters they write in fifth grade to their future selves when they are about to graduate seven years later. It’s a privilege to see them grow in their journey knowing we had two years together as part of that. I also work with amazing teachers who are flexible and accommodating.”

According to Breton, the most challenging aspect of her work is that there never seems to be enough time in the day to do all that she needs to do.

“I’ve had to make a concerted effort to truly focus on prioritizing what’s most important while keeping the assignments and projects challenging and meaningful,” she said. “The workday does not end when the bell rings. The work and home life balance can be precarious sometimes as we teachers are always thinking about our sweet students and how we can provide the best education to meet all their needs.”

Prior to joining the staff at Manchester School, Breton taught second and third grades at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta during her first two years of teaching. She then taught fourth grade for eight years at Village School in Gorham before accepting the job in Windham.

She grew up in South Portland and lived in Westbrook before eventually moving to Windham. Breton obtained her elementary education teaching degree from the University of Southern Maine and later earned certification to teach gifted and talented students.

“I was a classroom teacher for 10 years before I worked at Manchester School. Both schools I had previously taught at had no daily gifted and talented programming but weekly enrichment services,” Breton said. “I was determined to challenge and motivate these learners in my classroom as I saw they had great potential and deserved comprehensive and appropriate differentiation in their education. I jumped at the chance to teach these learners every day in a pull-out program that only Manchester School offers. It’s been an amazing experience and I have such gratitude for the honor of teaching these inspiring children.”

Married and the mother of a daughter and a son, Breton says her family are supportive of her work and give her insight to balance her workload more effectively. She also had the unique opportunity to have her son as a student for two years at Manchester School.

“It’s been wonderful to hear his perspective and what stood out most to him all of those years ago,” she said.

Breton says that the educational partnership and collaboration between the Manchester students, their families, and the community have helped the school grow in a multitude of ways.

“The parents of my students are incredibly supportive along with this team of teachers who are inspiring and encouraging,” she said. “I am a community member as well as a teacher here in Windham and those two perspectives have given me a deeper level of gratitude for our school and community. I am thankful every day for these incredible students and the opportunities. I adore every one of these amazing kids.” <

State parks see slight decline in use in 2023, camping reservations now open

AUGUSTA – Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) Director Andy Cutko has announced a slight decline in visitation to Maine State Parks during 2023, with 2.93 million visitors spending time at the bureau's 48 state parks and historic sites (2.64 million day-use visitors and 291,000 campers).

Reservations for the 2024 camping season at Sebago Lake
State Park opened Thursday at www.CampWithMe.com
or by calling 800-332-1501. FILE PHOTO 
While visitation fell below the record-breaking years of 2022 and 2021, with 3.28 million and 3.3 million visits, the slight 2023 decrease was attributed to poor weather. Maine State Parks welcomed 319,000 campers in 2022 and 315K in 2021. Despite this decrease, BPL anticipates a continued upward trend in visitation.

"The parks are such an amazing value, and we thrive because of the talented staff who welcome millions of outdoors enthusiasts who love and care for these treasured places," Cutko said. "Another and lesser-known contributor to our success are the many partnerships that continue to emerge, such as our work with L.L. Bean, which provides loaned equipment stored in "Beach Boxes," Maine Cancer Foundation and Impact Melanoma sunscreen dispensers, collaboration with Trail Monster on bike, snowshoe, and running races, and the Portland Museum of Art "Art on the Trail" installations."

The Bureau of Parks and Lands says that it is using $50 million in Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan funding to upgrade Maine State Parks this year. Projects already completed include improved roads at Sebago Lake, Peaks-Kenney, Camden Hills, Rangeley Lake, and Lily Bay State Park, a renovated bridge at Reid State Park, and numerous equipment purchases. Ongoing architecture and design work includes park entrance stations, washrooms and plumbing improvements, campsite redesigns, and much more.

The Maine State Park Camping Reservation Center officially opened Thursday, Feb. 1 for making 2024 camping reservations.

Starting at 9 a.m. Feb. 1, reservations for Lily Bay State Park and Sebago Lake State Park are available.

The BPL Campground Reservation Center accepts phone and online reservations for all 12 Maine State Park campgrounds.

To book an online reservation, go to www.CampWithME.com or reach the camping reservation call center by calling 800-332-1501 from a Maine 207 area code, or call 207-624-9950. Seasonal reservation call center hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. <

CoverME.gov finishes open enrollment with many new consumers covered this year

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of the Health Insurance Marketplace (OHIM) has announced that more than 62,500 Maine residents have signed up for affordable health coverage in 2024 through CoverME.gov, Maine’s health insurance marketplace, during the open enrollment period that concluded in January.

Maine’s marketplace contributed to the record-breaking 21.3 million people who signed up through Affordable Care Act marketplaces nationwide.

Open enrollment through CoverME.gov -- the only place where Maine residents can shop for plans that meet Affordable Care Act quality coverage standards and find financial savings to help pay monthly premiums – ran from Nov. 1, 2023 to Jan. 16, 2024. For plan year 2024, more than four out of five Mainers who selected a plan during open enrollment qualified for financial help.

Of the 62,533 consumers who selected a health plan, 10,243 were new consumers who didn’t have a marketplace plan at the beginning of open enrollment, topping the number of new consumers who signed up for 2023 coverage. The remainder were returning consumers who actively re-enrolled or were automatically re-enrolled in a plan. Another 7,950 consumers selected standalone dental plans.

Maine is one of 19 states that fully run their own Health Insurance Marketplaces, with the Federal government running the rest through HealthCare.gov. Maine expanded Medicaid, or MaineCare, for children in families with income below 300 percent of the federal poverty level in October 2023, shifting financial assistance for and enrollment of children from CoverME.gov to MaineCare.

“Having health care saves lives,” said Maine Gov. Janet Mills. “I am glad to see that thousands of Maine people can now see a doctor, afford their medications, and receive high-quality preventative care because they signed up for affordable health coverage through CoverME.gov.”

Other state officials agree.

“We’re thrilled to welcome so many new consumers into coverage in 2024,” said Hilary Schneider, Director of the DHHS Office of the Health Insurance Marketplace, which runs CoverME.gov. “Our enhanced marketing and outreach plans and strong partnerships with community organizations, brokers, and health insurance carriers helped Mainers in need of health coverage to find meaningful, affordable health plans.”

Health coverage can prevent an accident or illness from devastating an individual’s or family’s finances, said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

“CoverME.gov is contributing to more Maine residents having the peace of mind of health care when they need it,” Lambrew said.

Reasons for why so many new consumers enrolled this year vary.

“I turned 26 and could no longer be on my parents' plan. Looking at the costs of plans before I filled out the financial aid application, I thought I’d never be able to get affordable insurance,” said Sarah Rinaldi, who first enrolled in coverage as a full-time nursing student in Portland. “I found out I qualify for financial assistance which means I can pay for it out of pocket as a full-time student. Now I pay $60 a month for my insurance but it’s normally a $300-plus plan. The fact that I was able to pay for my insurance without having to have a full-time job while in school as well was really a relief for me.”

A number of changing health coverage dynamics affected CoverME.gov enrollment for 2024, including:

Expanded financial savings helped shield eligible CoverME.gov consumers from premium increases: While average premiums set by insurance companies rose in Maine and many other states in 2024, premiums paid by consumers qualifying for financial assistance increased by less than $33 per month, thanks to extra financial assistance from the federal government.
Consumers with financial assistance chose comprehensive coverage with lower out-of-pocket costs: Fifty-six percent of those who qualify for financial assistance to pay monthly premiums enrolled in a plan that covers at least 70 percent of out-of-pocket costs, compared to 44 percent of those who do not receive premium assistance who chose plans with relatively higher deductibles and copays.

With expanded eligibility for MaineCare, fewer children are enrolled in CoverME.gov: As expected, the marketplace saw a decrease in enrollment of consumers aged 20 and younger as a result of the Maine Legislature passing a law to expand eligibility of MaineCare (Medicaid) coverage for children under age 21, which took effect in October 2023. Eligibility increased to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $90,000 annually for a family of four. This translated to 13 percent fewer individuals aged 20 and under enrolling in health coverage through CoverME.gov during open enrollment for 2024 compared to 2023.

Marketing and outreach to support awareness of Open Enrollment was a significant focus for CoverME.gov between Nov. 1, 2023, and Jan. 16, 2024. Advertising ran in markets across the state through traditional media including TV, radio, and on buses, and through digital and social media, as well as direct outreach to consumers through thousands of mailed notices and emails. In addition, 41,199 people used the Plan Compare Tool, which allows users to compare plans side-by-side with regard to plan features, benefits, provider networks, prescription drug coverage, and total out-of-pocket costs, including premiums, deductibles, and estimated costs for services. Increased awareness also resulted in record call volume for the CoverME.gov’s Consumer Assistance Center, up 12 percent from 2023. CoverME.gov answered 544 calls per day on average and anyone requesting a call back received it in same business day to help ensure anyone who wanted coverage could get enrolled.

The next CoverME.gov open enrollment will start on Nov. 1, 2024. In the meantime, Maine residents who experience a life event such as getting married or divorced, having or adopting a baby, or losing employer-sponsored coverage or MaineCare, can enroll in coverage using a Special Enrollment Period. Visit CoverME.gov for more details.

Individuals eligible for MaineCare may enroll in MaineCare at any time of year. <

Raymond resident continues to help Ukrainian families relocate to America

By Masha Yurkevich

When life is good, we often take many things for granted. From the very beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine, Marilyn Redegeld Ross of Raymond, a singer, composer and recording artist, saw the need to help and has continued to do so by sponsoring Ukrainian families.

Marilyn Redegeld Ross of Raymond has been
helping families from Ukraine emigrate to the 
United States. This is one of the final families
that she is helping to come here, and they are 
still waiting for confirmation after their home
burned to the ground during the war last winter.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
“A recent poll revealed that Americans' number one concern is immigration even before the economy,” says Redegeld. “People are frustrated with the unprecedented flow of illegal immigrants coming through our southern border. Meanwhile, all the heartfelt support for Ukrainians has somehow subsided and Americans seem to have lost their appetite for Putin's war, but the suffering of the Ukrainians people continues.”

For Ukrainian sponsors like Redegeld, the legal immigration process has become more difficult and a longer process for her Ukrainian beneficiaries. As of Aug. 1, 2023, the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) Program Uniting For Ukraine (U4U) added a needs-based 750-character minimum requirement to describe why the recipients’ situation to come to America is urgent.

Redegeld has been passionate about the humanitarian efforts for Ukrainians since the invasion began almost two years ago. She began writing songs for Ukraine considering every angle of what was transpiring which resulted in her recording several songs in support of the Ukrainian people.

By the summer of 2022 after reading an article in The Windham Eagle about a Ukrainian family that was sponsored by a Windham family, she inquired about how she could do the same. Redegeld joined a Facebook Group for uniting American sponsors with recipients and with much work, sponsored two families and an 18-year-old. One family of four lived in her basement apartment for a few months until the school year was over for the twin girls. Then they relocated with new jobs in the Chicago area. The other family settled in California and the 18-year-old moved to Boston.

More Ukrainians continued to approach Redegeld on Facebook and she went on to sponsor two more families who have been suffering through deteriorating conditions, daily sirens, nearby rocket attacks and occasionally losing power. Food is scarce and expensive, and money is hard to make with low wages.

A family of four adults, currently in Chortkiv, that Redegeld sponsored last July, quickly received a response and confirmation. However, it took three months for USCIS to correct some errors. On the application Marilyn wrote a lengthy story about the 56-year-old father's medical condition in which he had to have emergency surgery to remove his thyroid. The family was not able to save the funds for their flight costs, so Redegeld, her husband, and her son are working to get the necessary funds together and they are hoping to be greeting the family at Logan airport no later than March.

This family is anxious to begin their new lives and are eager to find jobs and work hard using the skills they already have. The 34-year-old son of this family is currently in Poland earning money to support the family, but it is impossible to have anything left over to save for their upcoming journey.

The last and final family, currently in Gostomel, that Redegeld has sponsored with the help of the father of her children, Doug Redegeld, have been waiting for a response from USCIS since early September.

“This is particularly frustrating because this family of three, with a 12-year-old boy, endured a rocket attack just a year ago which resulted in their home burning to the ground,” says Redegeld. “They have post-traumatic stress and panic whenever there are sirens blaring, which can be daily, with rocket attacks and the sound of drones and audible explosions. The father and son both play guitar and love music. The mother is a hairdresser.”

These families are very humble and grateful for Redegeld’s and the community's support and for the opportunity to come to the U.S. legally and be productive and prosperous members of our increasingly diverse society.

“We must not forget how important our legal immigration is and support the hopes and dreams similar to those of our ancestors who also escaped similar circumstances,” says Redegeld.

Redegeld says that she is grateful for all the help and support that the Lakes Region community has given.

For more information about how to help with this effort, send an email to robin.marilyn68@yahoo.com <