For the first time, both major political parties have explicitly recognized in their platforms the need for community-based long-term care. While the Democratic and Republican platforms included few specific recommendations, the fact that they acknowledged the importance of personal assistance and social supports for older adults (and in the Democrats’ case, for younger people with disabilities) is a significant step towards future policy change.
The Democratic platform is far more expansive, addressing the importance of strong home-based services and supports for both paid aides and family caregivers. It also calls for expanded family leave, which could help some working people caring for parents or spouses. Here are the two key sections from the Democratic platform.
“Our country faces a long-term care crisis that prevents too many seniors and people with disabilities from being able to live with dignity at home or in their communities. The vast majority of people who are aging or living with a disability want to do so at home, but face challenges finding and affording the support they need to do so. Programs that emphasize independence rather than institutionalization must be better structured to support them. Democrats will take steps to strengthen and expand the home care workforce, give seniors and people with disabilities access to quality, affordable long-term care, services, and supports, and ensure that all of these resources are readily available at home or in the community.”
“Our work and family policies must also help family caregivers. We will ensure that family caregivers have the support, respite care, and training they need to support their loved ones. We will create a strong stable paid caregiving workforce to help meet families’ needs, by raising wages, improving access to training, and giving workers the opportunity to come together to make their voices heard in support of a stronger system. We will address the conditions that make it hard for workers with unpredictable or inflexible schedules to meet caregiving responsibilities. We will take steps to expand and strengthen the home care workforce. We will increase investments to make quality childcare more affordable, boost wages for childcare workers, and support the millions of people paying for, coordinating, or providing care for aging relatives or those with disabilities.”
The Democratic platform tracks some proposals already offered by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. They include tax breaks, Social Security credit, and respite care for family caregivers, as well as training and better pay for direct care workers.
The GOP platform is more modest in scope and even less specific. Still, it calls home-based care “a priority in public policy.” It says, “Our aging population must have access to safe and affordable care. Because most seniors desire to age at home, we will make homecare a priority in public policy and will implement programs to protect against elder abuse.”
In contrast to Clinton, Donald Trump has been silent on the issues of aging and disability, or the needs of caregivers.
Party platforms are important, but don’t expect too much from them. They are not to-do lists. Rather they are a reflection of the priorities of the activists of each party. In the case of the Democratic platform, it was the result of an explicit negotiation between the relatively moderate Clinton wing of the party and the very liberal Bernie Sanders faction. The Republican platform seemed more representative of the party’s congressional wing than Trump.
They are also only words, and don’t come with money. And without funding, the words mean little.
Still, these platforms say that long-term care and, at least in the case of Democrats, support for caregivers, is on the agenda of both parties. And that is a big step forward.