BREAKING UPDATE 12/9/15: The RAISE Family Caregivers Act passed the U.S. Senate on December 8 by unanimous consent.
“On the Senate health committee, we have the opportunity to work on legislation that touches the lives of nearly every single American.” — HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
Last month, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee did just that, taking an important step to help America’s unsung heroes, family caregivers — and the loved ones they assist — by passing the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act — a bill that would require the development of a national strategy to recognize and support family caregivers.
HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, “By launching a National Family Caregiving strategy and advisory council, the RAISE Family Caregivers Act would help us better understand and meet the needs of numerous people across the country who are making an enormous contribution to their families and to our health care system — and who, too often, are overlooked.”
Today, about 40 million people in the U.S. assist their parents, spouses, children with disabilities, friends or other loved ones so they can live independently in their homes and communities. These family caregivers provide a staggering 37 billion hours in unpaid care annually.
A labor of love to be sure, family caregivers also face huge responsibilities, and are the backbone of our care system in the U.S.
As a family caregiver myself — having cared for my parents and now, along with my two millennial sons, caring for my husband, who has ALS — I know how challenging, rewarding and difficult this experience can be. Every week, across the country:
- Daughters are poring through bills and statements to help manage Dad’s finances after putting the kids to bed.
- Brothers and sisters are splitting up duties and figuring out who can make it to which appointment, and how to pay for the changes that are needed in Mom and Dad’s house.
- Parents are making sure their child with a disability is getting the needed education and resources.
- Middle-aged sons are taking off work driving their aging dad around town, and spending weekends helping with house repairs.
- Millennial kids are helping their mom with a health condition get around the house.
- Husbands, wives and partners are helping loved ones after a surgery.
In Kentucky, Donna cares for her mother: “At first my help included taking her to various doctor visits and assisting with household chores. In May of this year I retired early to care for her 24/7.”
In Nevada, Maria cares for a friend: “I am not sure when our friendship transferred to caregiving but today I am her primary caregiver. I take care of all her bills, her mail, her transportation, making sure she is stocked with her personal items, but most importantly being there for her as a daughter, friend and someone she knows will always be there for her.”
While they wouldn’t have it any other way, many family caregivers are often on call 24/7, sometimes without even a break; they need some support. Thank you to the Senate sponsors of the RAISE Act, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and the HELP Committee leadership, Sens. Alexander and Murray, for your bipartisan action to support family caregivers like Donna, Maria, myself and so many others.
We also thank the House sponsors of the RAISE Act, Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), for their bipartisan leadership on this bill.
AARP now urges the U.S. Senate to pass the RAISE Family Caregivers Act to recognize, assist, include, support and engage family caregivers this year.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond .
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