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Caring for Caregivers

Summary: 
Terrell McSweeny with the Middle Class Task Force talks about a series of initiatives in the President's FY 11 budget that are aimed at helping families with soaring child care costs, balancing work with caring for elderly relatives or people with disabilities, paying for college, and saving for retirement.

This week the Middle Class Task Force unveiled a series of initiatives in the President's FY 11 budget that are aimed at helping families with soaring child care costs, balancing work with caring for elderly relatives or people with disabilities, paying for college, and saving for retirement.  These are costs that – along with health care – have risen dramatically for families at a time when their incomes haven't.   Some people call this "squeeze" because of the pressure these costs put on family budgets.  But for many families it just seems like it is impossible to get ahead.

This is particularly true for the so-called "sandwich generation" – people who are caring for children (or grandchildren or adult children who are struggling financially) and their parents.   The Vice President often speaks very personally about his experience caring for his parents and in-laws.  And almost all of us know someone who has juggled caring for a parent or relative who can’t get along completely on their own.  Millions of Americans provide unpaid care to aging relatives – including approximately 23 million caregivers with jobs and 12 million who are also caring for their own children.   That's why the Middle Class Task Force’s "squeeze" initiative includes help for family caregivers. 

These caregivers play a vital role in helping seniors stay in their communities or at home.  But too often they don’t have the support they need to balance caregiving with work and family responsibilities.  As Elinor Ginzler of AARP put it:

"AARP is grateful that the Middle Class Task Force has drawn attention  to an issue that is deeply important to our members—the critical role of family caregivers and what we should be doing to help them.  Approximately 65 million Americans provide care to a loved one, giving more than $375 billion worth of unpaid care each year—often at their own financial and emotional expense.  Increasing support to these invaluable individuals would be an important step to help those who do so much to help others."

The nearly $103 million investment proposed by the Middle Class Task Force will support more respite care, counseling, training, referrals, and adult day care.  As Sandy Markwood, CEO of National Association for Area Agencies on Aging explained:

"Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force’s recommendation to increase funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and Lifespan Respite, along with strengthening supportive services through Title III-B of the Older Americans Act, represents a huge investment in community-based programs that support the independence of older Americans and their caregivers. These funds will enable them to access and get the critical services that they need while avoiding unnecessary and more expensive institutional care or spending down to Medicaid.  We applaud the work that has been done by the Administration that serves to strengthen long term living options through home and community-based services."

The extra funding proposed by the Task Force will allow nearly 200,000 additional caregivers to be served and 3 million more hours of respite care to be provided.  It adds funding to programs that provide transportation help, adult day care, and in-home services including aides to help bathe and cook.  Some have said these things are modest.  And, to some extent, they are. But sometimes it is these small things that add up to make all the difference.

Eric Hall, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Alzheimers Foundation of America is well aware of the vital help these services give families:

"Family caregivers who struggle each day with practical and financial challenges have been anxiously waiting for this issue to be brought to the national stage and for relief in their own homes and communities. For these families, assistance at any level can help delay nursing home placement and enhance caregiver well being. The proposed initiatives represent a welcome change in direction, from minimal or flatlined funding to amounts that will make a difference for hundreds of thousands of American families."

And here’s what Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving who represents family caregivers said:

"The National Alliance for Caregiving is proud to support the Middle Class Task Force and their efforts to support family caregivers. This is a wonderful addition to the National Family Caregiver Support Program and it is a perfect way to recognize these caregivers who on average spend 18 hours a week providing care.  The funding for transportation, adult day care and other services under Title III b will also help family caregivers by assisting the older adult they are caring for. We are grateful to the Middle Class Task Force for bringing much needed public awareness to the family caregiver."

The caregiver initiative won’t magically alleviate all the strain on caregivers and their families – but it is an important first step toward providing more support for families and caregivers and the vital services they are performing.

Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President