A White House task force on meeting the needs of middle-class families today proposed to spend an additional $102 million to assist caregivers of aging relatives. The initiative includes an extra $52.5 million for respite care–a program enacted by Congress in 2006 but never fully funded. 

It is very important that the Obama Administration recognizes that caring for our parents is critical to many middle-class families. But as the task force fact sheet notes, 38 million Americans provide unpaid care to loved ones (other estimates are even higher). So, $102 million comes out to about $3 per family–not exactly a difference maker.

There has been a long history of Washington announcing grand-sounding plans for family caregivers, but never delivering. For instance, the Lifespan Respite Care Act passed four years ago was supposed to provide critical assistance to caregivers. The original law called for spending $71 million this year, but Congress never appropriated anything close to that. In 2009, only $2.3 million was distributed to states.

If the President and Congress follow through on expanding the Lifespan program–a big if–this will help a few families. Better for all of us if Obama works to be sure that bigger long-term care changes survive the health reform debate. For instance, if everyone had some form of long-term care insurance (such as the national government insurance in the CLASS Act) they could spend their daily benefit as they wished, and would not have to rely on underfunded government programs that come and go with the political winds.