Support the Credit for Caring Act to provide relief for caregivers
© Getty Images

In the U.S., there is an assumption that unpaid family caregivers will aid disabled relatives in need. The statement is often made that over 80 percent of all long-term care is provided by family and friends, from pitching in to do simple household chores to performing more complex medical tasks in the home. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, it even seems manageable – until you find yourself caring for a loved one while managing everything else in your busy life. The belief that the family will be there is a dangerous one for our country because it minimizes the importance of helping caregivers.

Most family caregivers who contact the Family Caregiver Alliance seeking information, guidance and supportive services, the average time commitment is over 20 hours per week. Taking on this kind of responsibility is like having a second job, so any support that we can provide caregivers in the workforce is critical to their wellbeing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Family caregivers are frazzled by work and family demands. Making break-time phone calls to check in or arrange medical appointments, pushing worry away to focus on work deadlines, or finding substitute care when an aide doesn’t show up are all part of the balancing act. Then it gets worse. For every family, there is a tipping point when your loved one needs more personal care assistance or it is no longer safe to leave the person alone due to cognitive impairments or dementia. Then a family – likely your family someday according to statistics – faces a difference set of choices: cut back hours, leave the workforce or pay for extended care.

This is when the economic reality sets in: paying for care is prohibitively expensive. According to the latest Genworth Cost of Care Study (2016), national average charges for care range from $3,813/month for home care (44 hours/week), $3,628/month for assistive living and $6,844 to $7,698 per month for nursing homes. Who can afford those kinds of monthly fees out of pocket? Precious few hard working Americans that much is certain. For most families, this means tapping resources within the family. It means spending the assets of the relative needing assistance and likely spending the assets of the family caregiver – your hard-earned money -- and extended family if available. On average, families contribute $6954 annually to care expenses, per a 2016 AARP report.

This is why the Credit for Caring Act is so important as one way to defray the rising cost burden on caregiving families. A federal tax credit of up to $3,000 could be available to eligible families to help shoulder these expenses and may mean the difference between a family caregiver staying employed or leaving the workforce to care full time. At Family Caregiver Alliance, we work hard to find options that work best for an individual family whether they stay in the workforce or leave their job to take on caregiving full time. These are tough choices for a family to make that involve emotional and financial considerations.

Both scenarios have consequences. But the Credit for Caring Act allows additional options when making the decision of whether or not to remain in the workforce. The estimated $470 billion value that unpaid family caregivers provide yearly may seem free to society but it comes at a cost to families and especially caregivers. If we value having financially healthy families, then we should provide relief from the economic burdens of long-term care. One way to help is by supporting the Credit for Caring Act now introduced in Congress.

Kelly is Executive Director of Family Caregiver Alliance and has over 35 years of experience in family caregiving policies and programs.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.