For the first time in years, maybe for the first time ever, a major presidential candidate has put family caregiving on the political front-burner. Over the weekend, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton proposed a package of ideas aimed at assisting those who are caring for aging parents or other family members.
Her ideas are modest and won’t provide the level of help many family caregivers need. But she made the issue of caring for frail parents or younger people with disabilities a key plank in her campaign. She’s talking about it. And that will force other candidates to talk about it. That is an enormous step forward.
Clinton’s proposals fit with her campaign’s basic message of helping middle-class families. They especially target a key constituency for her campaign: Women are at the center of caregiving issues because they are both most likely to be recipients of care (as aging mothers) and givers of care (as adult daughters).
Clinton made four proposals:
A 20 percent tax credit up to $1,200 to subsidize out-of-pocket costs of family members caring for aging parents. For those eligible for the full credit, the tax break would help offset the first $6,000 of caregiving costs. However, the credit would phase out for families making $120,000 or more. The proposal is based on Americans Giving Care to Elders (AGE) Act, a bill offered in pact years by Democratic senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
A new initiative to improve the lives of direct care workers. Rather than endorsing specific proposals, Clinton urged a “coordinated, government-wide initiative” aimed at improving training, promotions, and better pay for home health aides and other care workers. She also called for better ways to connect trained workers with families who need their assistance.
Giving credit toward Social Security benefits for people who leave the paid workforce to care for loved ones. Clinton’s proposal is based on the Social Security Caregiver Act, a bill sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY).
Expanding funding for caregiver respite. Almost a decade ago, Congress passed the Lifespan Respite Care Act. The law was supposed to enhance access to adult day care and other programs aimed at giving caregivers an occasional break. But it was barely funded over the years and achieved very little. Clinton said she’d ask for $100 million for the initiative over 10 years.
Some of these ideas are better than others. The tax credit is a back-door way of subsidizing caregiver out-of-pocket costs. It is yet another example of turning what should be direct spending into a more politically palatable tax cut.
Giving Social Security credits to workers who stay home to help family members sounds like a good idea, but Clinton needs to tell us how she’d finance the additional drain on the Social Security system. Her support for direct care workers is commendable but she’s proposing little more than a study.
By contrast, it is long past time that Congress put real resources into respite programs, which are desperately needed to reduce the caregiver burnout that often leads to the institutionalization of those receiving care.
But the details are less important than the overall message: There are roughly 44 million family members in the US caring for 12 million or more relatives with disabilities or chronic conditions. It is about time that politicians start to pay attention to them.