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Some States Easing Financial Burden on Caregivers

Legislation ranges from paid family leave to tax credits

Mom and adult daughter bringing groceries into the kitchen

Monashee Frantz/Getty Images

En español | Caring for a loved one who needs help with everything from getting dressed to going to the doctor can be a challenge. But for family caregivers who also work at another job, the strain can force them to cut back their hours or even quit their jobs.

State legislatures from Hawaii to New York are stepping up to help employed caregivers with measures that provide some financial relief and workplace flexibility. 

Helping a loved one often significantly affects a caregiver’s career, especially among women, who compose 60 percent of family caregivers, according to AARP research. A study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that female caregivers are more likely than men to alter their work lives: 16 percent of women take a less demanding job, compared with 6 percent of men; and 12 percent of women give up work entirely, compared with 3 percent of men.

The financial consequences can be staggering: Family caregivers who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime, according to AARP research.

Over the past two years, AARP has been behind the passage of more than 150 state laws to support family caregivers, with dozens more in the pipeline in the coming year. AARP has drafted model legislation on topics ranging from providing tax credits to family caregivers to the ability to use sick leave to care for an ailing loved one.  

In Hawaii, the Kupuna Caregivers Assistance Act went into effect last month. Kupuna in Hawaiian means an elder, grandparent or an older person held in high esteem. The groundbreaking measure provides up to $70 a day worth of services for a caregiver who assists a loved one over age 60 and is employed at another job for least 30 hours a week. The money goes directly to providers of services, such as respite care, adult day care, home-delivered meals, homemaker services, personal assistance, or transportation. Recipients cannot be living in a long-term care facility or receiving comparable help from a government program — such as Medicaid — or a private service.

“That’s what makes this law a unicorn,” said Kathy Kelly, executive director of the Family Caregiver Alliance, a nonprofit caregiver-support organization. “No income criteria.” The program is aimed at those who need care and whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but not high enough to enable them to afford long-term care insurance or pay out of pocket for care. 

With the state having budgeted only $600,000 for the program through June 30, 2018, demand from Hawaii’s 154,000 unpaid family caregivers likely will outstrip the available funds. The legislature is expected to get a request for more money in 2018.

On the mainland, many other states are focusing on workplace flexibilities and tax breaks to give family caregivers a hand. Here are just a few examples.

The state of Washington’s legislature is considering the Long-Term Care Trust Act, under which family caregivers can get $100 a day for a year. This benefit would be financed with a half-percent payroll contribution from all workers. The aim is to relieve strain on the state’s Medicaid budget by preventing or delaying older adults from needing Medicaid, according to Washingtonians for a Responsible Future, a broad-based coalition on long-term care. 

Washington, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia have passed laws that require employers to provide paid family leave for employees who need time off to care for sick or disabled family members or a new child. 

Legislatures in Illinois and Georgia passed laws giving public and private sector employees the flexibility to use existing paid leave to care for themselves or a loved one.

In Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin, the legislatures are considering providing tax credits for family caregivers who spend their own money assisting a loved one.

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