One of the consequences of America’s aging population is that families are finding it increasingly difficult to provide care for loved ones.
The nation’s largest nonprofit for seniors, the AARP, said recently that by 2050, there will be fewer than half as many family caregivers available to support Americans older than 80.
That is a problem because there are now more than 40 million Americans who are taking on “the challenge of caring for parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other loved ones, so they can live independently at home and in their communities,” according to Nancy LeaMond, the AARP’s chief advocacy and engagement officer.
Hoping to establish “a coordinated strategy to support family caregivers,” Congress gave final approval Monday to legislation pushed by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.
Two years ago, the bill passed in the Senate, but the House never took it up. This time, though, it sailed easily through both chambers on Capitol Hill.
The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act, approved unanimously, heads next to President Donald Trump for his expected approval.
“Family caregivers play an essential role in our communities by dedicating time and attention and making countless personal and financial sacrifices to care for their loved ones,” Collins said in a written statement.
She said the bill, which directs the secretary of health and human services “to develop and sustain a strategy to recognize and support” family caregivers, will lead to a plan that can “leverage our resources, promote best practices and expand services and training available to caregivers.”
“This law will provide family caregivers across America with the much-needed recognition they deserve as well as the resources and training they need to better balance the full-time job of caregiving along with everything else that life brings,” Collins said.
LeaMond said in a prepared statement that family caregivers “are the backbone of our care system in America.”
“We need to make it easier for them to coordinate care for their loved ones, get information and resources and take a break so they can rest and recharge,” she said.
The AARP said women compose more than 60 percent of caregivers, and that a third of the people who provide care for family members devote at least 21 hours a week to the duty.
Lawmakers said they hope the measure will bring relief to caregivers, while offering a way to bolster their ranks in the future.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said in a prepared statement the measure “will bring all levels of government, the private sector, and communities together so they can assess and develop a comprehensive strategy to bolster support for family caregivers to help their loved ones live healthy, independent and full lives.”
The bill had the backing of more than 60 organizations that focus on aging or disabilities, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation called it an important step forward to support the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers — “the spouses, parents, loved ones and friends caring for wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans at home.”
Former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole said research shows that “veterans have the best chance to recover, improve and thrive when they have a strong, well-supported caregiver.”
Dole said in a written statement that the new strategy proposed in the measure “will identify specific actions that providers, government officials, employers and others can take to recognize and support the unique needs of caregivers that are all too often overlooked.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (AP file photo)