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Why Family Caregivers Need a Tax Credit

Congressional backers of Credit for Caring Act share personal stories

The Cost of Caring, AARP

Lexey Swall/GRAIN

Left to Right: Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Congressman Dan Donovan (R-NY), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) at the Cost of Caring event.

En español | In a rare demonstration of bipartisan unity, several members of Congress met in Washington, D.C., Thursday to speak with one voice on the challenges of family caregiving

“If there is one issue that has the power to unite us across parties and ideologies, across age, income and gender, it’s family caregiving,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. The event, “The Cost of Caring: Family Caregivers and Tax Reform,” was convened by the Hill newspaper and sponsored by AARP.

“At kitchen tables across America,” LeaMond said, “real families are confronting the same question: How will we care for Mom or Dad, or another loved one, if something happens and they can’t care for themselves?”

Some 40 million family caregivers are answering that question for themselves every day. One-quarter of family caregivers are millennials; almost 1 in 10 are age 75 or over; 4 in 10 are male; and 61 percent are employed.

Many of them risk their own health and financial security to assist their parents. According to an AARP Research study, last year family caregivers spent an average of $7,000 — about 20 percent of their income — caring for their loved ones. 

“That is why AARP is supporting the Credit for Caring Act,” LeaMond said. The bill would create a tax credit of up to $3,000 for eligible working family caregivers who spend at least $2,000 on care-related expenses.

The panel featured supporters of the bill, including Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.). They talked about their own experiences, painting a moving portrait of the financial, emotional and physical burdens family caregivers face. 

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An only child, Donovan lost his father decades before his mother began showing signs of dementia. When she broke a hip a few years ago at age 84, he returned home to care for her, but doctors said her mental and physical condition required nursing home care. Donovan disagreed. He plunged into a new role as a family caregiver, exhausting the $60,000 he’d saved to buy an apartment to provide care for his mother. She lived to age 89, cared for by her son in her own home, which “gave both of us great comfort,” he said. 

Lujan Grisham became a family caregiver as a child of 10, joining her family in tending to her younger sister, who had developed disabilities following surgery on a brain tumor at age 2. When told she should place the child in a health care facility, Grisham’s mother “would have none of it.” The family cared for her sister at home and “blew through the lifetime insurance cap” by the time she was 3. Her sister died at age 21. 

Thus began a lifetime of caregiving for Lujan Grisham, who also took on the task for her father until he died and now takes care of her mother. “Caregiving is a 24-hour job, and it involves the whole family,” she said. 

Raised by her grandparents, Baldwin said she unhesitatingly became her grandmother’s caregiver when the need arose. “It was my honor to give back after everything she and my grandfather had done for me,” she said, adding that she struggled to find the best resources and assistance in her community. “I was in my 30s, and I was unprepared,” she said.

Ernst discussed the enormous challenge for a rural state with a booming aging populace: It has nowhere near enough facilities to accommodate the many older residents who want to remain in their homes and communities. 

House and Senate versions of the Credit for Caring Act were introduced in May. The House bill now has 14 cosponsors from both parties, and the Senate version has eight.

AARP urges Congress to pass the Credit for Caring Act.