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Congress Takes Step to Aid Family Caregivers

Senate passes bill supporting 40 million Americans who care for loved ones at home

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A bill calling for a national strategy to support the more than 40 million Americans who help loved ones live independently at home unanimously passed the U.S. Senate Tuesday.

The measure — the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act — was sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). It now goes to the House, where it is sponsored by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.). They have support from both sides of the aisle.

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Each year, unpaid family caregivers provide 37 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at an estimated $470 billion — as much as the combined annual sales of Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft. Family caregivers handle essential medical tasks ranging from giving injections to providing wound care. They also provide meals, transportation and other services. Many of them do this while working full time and raising their own families.

Among its provisions, the RAISE act calls for bringing together public and private sectors to recommend actions that communities, government, providers and others can take to make it easier for caregivers to coordinate care and receive information, referrals and resources.

“Every day, more than 40 million ordinary Americans take on the challenge of caring for parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other loved ones, so they can live independently at home and in their communities,” said AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond, who applauded Collins and Baldwin for sponsoring the legislation. She urged the House to pass it and President Trump to sign it. “At AARP, we believe family caregivers need recognition and support. By doing so, we can help millions of older Americans and people with disabilities live at home where they want to be, help to delay or prevent more costly nursing home care and unnecessary hospitalizations, and save taxpayer dollars.”

The ratio of potential family caregivers to the growing number of older people already has begun to decline sharply. This makes finding alternative support mechanisms in the future even more crucial. In 2010, there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person 80 and older. By 2030 that ratio will drop to 4 to 1, and is expected to decline to 3 to 1 by 2050.

Women represent 60 percent of caregivers. The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who is caring for a 69-year-old woman — most likely her mother.

About 32 percent of family caregivers provide at least 21 hours of care a week in addition to their full-time or part-time jobs.

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