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Money & Policy

Caregivers Could Be the Real Silent Majority This Election

Why aren’t the needs of the nation’s 34 million caregivers front and center?


Part of the Political Issues and Policies Special Report

(This article appeared previously on Huffington Post.)

There is probably not another segment of the population as large and drowning in quiet desperation as our country’s 34 million unpaid family caregivers. Yet their needs have barely been discussed on the national stage of this presidential election.

Why is that? Maybe it’s just that caregivers don’t have any time left on their hands to organize protest marches or come up with Twitter hashtags to keep their situation front and center in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s headlights. But come November, don’t be surprised if the nation’s family caregivers rise up and speak in one voice.

Care of elderly parents, spouses and the nation’s veterans who return home with damages both visible and unseen carries a price tag of $500 billion a year, according to the Rand Corp. And the family members who provide this care ― most notably spouses and adult daughters ― often have to sacrifice their own lives in the process.

Since Social Security is based on your top 35 years of earnings, caregivers who do this wind up hurting their own retirement by reducing their benefits.

Frequently they must cut back on their work hours or burn through personal and vacation days to provide an elderly parent or a spouse with care. For many, dropping out of the workplace can mean lost wages, health insurance and reduced Social Security benefits later on.

And then there is the emotional toll. There is an acute lack of respite care, relief from the daily grind of what caregiving entails. Caregivers are mad as hell about all of it and not wanting to take it anymore.

Here’s where the two major presidential candidates stand on a few key ideas related to family caregiving:

On Tax Relief to Family Caregivers

Family caregivers spend plenty of money out of pocket related to their patients, and in many cases receive no tax deduction or credit. Clinton would offer a 20 percent tax credit to help family members offset up to $6,000 in caregiving costs for their elderly family members, allowing caregivers to claim up to $1,200 in tax relief each year.

That’s fine, but how about throwing spouses in the mix too? Trump’s silence is deafening except to say that Clinton would raise taxes. He also balks a bit at the idea of paid family leave for caregiving.

“I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it,” he has said. Yeah, don’t want to upset those big companies now, do we?

Improving the Professional Caregiving Workforce

Since the reason so many family members become caregivers in the first place is the cost and incompetence of the “professional” caregiving system, actually training those professional care workers would certainly be a step in the right direction. Care workers are paid poorly. That absolutely contributes to an obscene turnover rate of more than 100 percent annually in nursing homes.

And as any family caregiver can vouch, there are parts of the job that just dance on your last nerve. So by helping the paid caregivers, the idea is that you would be helping the family version.

Clinton’s proposal would create opportunities for care workers to learn the skills they need through apprenticeships, create career pathways for them and ensure fair wages.

Silence again from Trump. But when he builds his walls to keep immigrants at bay, how can he be so sure that he won’t be sending most of the paid caregiving workforce “back where they come from?” Many of these low-paying jobs are filled by poorly educated minority women.

It is anticipated that more than 1.3 million new paid caregivers will be needed to meet demand over the next decade. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute predicts that by 2020, the direct care work force will become the largest occupation in the United States, surpassing the number of retail salespeople, notes the New York Times.

Where will all these new workers come from? Talk about the jobs that nobody wants!

Make Some Changes to Social Security

Millions of Americans withdraw from the workforce to provide care for aging loved ones or children. Since Social Security is based on your top 35 years of earnings, caregivers who do this wind up hurting their own retirement by reducing their benefits. Under Clinton’s plan, family members who are acting as caregivers would continue to receive credit toward their Social Security benefits. Trump: No position, in an article originally published on Next Avenue.

Give Us a Break, Literally

Clinton wants to invest $100 million over 10 years in a program that would give grants to improve respite care access for family caregivers.

No clue on Trump, although when it comes to child care, he thinks more companies should provide affordable on-site help which he says beats waiting for the government to intervene. Having on-site child care allows him to employ “great people,” he said.

But no word on whether someone can stop by and stay for a few hours with Dad who has Alzheimer’s.

Before anyone gets too excited, The Hill reported on the introduction last November of the Lifespan Respite Care Reauthorization Act, which would have extended and increased funding for respite services for caregivers. Congress currently appropriates $3.36 million through existing laws that let states provide respite services both in the home and at respite care centers. This bill would have increased funding to $15 million per year for four years. And it was given a 1 percent chance of being enacted.

Quality Care for Veterans

Clinton has long advocated for improved and streamlined health care for veterans. She doesn’t stop at health care but includes other benefits that extend to veterans’ families. Here’s how she answered a teenager’s question about what she would do for veterans who need mental health care.

Trump wants Veterans Administration (VA) reforms that would ensure that veterans receive quality care quickly, wherever and whenever they need it. He has called the current state of the VA “absolutely unacceptable.”

He would issue ID cards to qualified veterans to enable them to see any doctor or care facility that accepts Medicare and get the care they need immediately. He pledges that there will be no more excessive red tape, long drives, or long wait times and that medical outcomes will be improved. On his website, he promises to “make the VA great again.”

 

By Ann Brenoff
Ann Brenoff is a writer and columnist for the Huffington Post.

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