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Lawmakers Should Listen To Constituents And Support Family Caregivers

Posted on 03/28/24 by Gary Simon

Cheryl Wicklund of Makawao can rely on her younger brothers and sisters to help with caregiving for her mom, who has dementia.

But even with their help, the strain and financial sacrifices of being a family caregiver take a toll.

“I don’t have an income anymore because I’m not working. I retired early from a very good job,” she said.

The cost of gas to travel from upcountry Maui to where her mom lives in Wailuku, diapers, medicines, meals, and adult day care adds up.

“I no longer have medical and dental, and I am too young for Medicare,” Wicklund said. “It (the cost of caregiving) is more than a mortgage. It’s expensive.”

AARP estimates there are 154,000 family caregivers in Hawaii, who put in 144 million hours of unpaid care. If they were paid, their wages would be $2.6 billion. But they are not paid and what they do enables loved ones to live at home, where most people want to age.

Without their sacrifice, our broken long-term care system would collapse. They save scarce taxpayer resources by keeping loved ones out of expensive nursing homes.

AARP Hawaii is asking lawmakers to pass an expanded tax credit for family caregivers. Last year legislators passed a dependent care tax credit which can be used by Hawaii taxpayers who care for someone in their own home.

Gov. Josh Green is proposing to allow more middle-class families to qualify for this tax credit. AARP believes the bill, House Bill 2404, should include additional amendments to allow caregivers like Wicklund, who incur significant expenses but care for loved ones who live with other family members.

A new AARP survey shows an overwhelming number of older registered voters agree. The survey of registered voters 40 and over shows 89% support a limited state income tax credit to offset the expenses of family caregivers.

In addition, 53% of older Hawaii voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supports a caregiver tax credit. The majority, 56%, think the state is not doing enough to support family caregivers and only 12% say state support is adequate.

The need for family caregivers is growing as our population ages. Nearly half of those surveyed said they are currently a family caregiver or have been one in the past. Sixty-seven percent said they are or were emotionally stressed and 27% felt financially stressed.

About four in 10 older Hawaii caregivers have modified their own home or a loved one’s home or have purchased medical equipment. At least one in three bought prescription drugs or helped with housing costs such as rent, mortgage, utilities or other upkeep expenses. About one in four spend their own money on respite care and other medical costs.

The financial burden of caregiving on Hawaii’s families is not going away. AARP Hawaii urges lawmakers to act sooner rather than later to help these unsung heroes by allowing them to deduct some of their expenses.

A tax credit is easier to implement and will get more money into the pockets of caregivers faster than setting up a program and creating an application process. Caregivers would have to keep receipts of their caregiving expenses to get a tax credit.

If you are or were a family caregiver or if you want to help, go to aarp.org/hicares and send an email to your Senator and tell them to amend and pass HB 2404 to give more family caregivers a state tax break.

This story was originally published in Honolulu Civil Beat.

This story is provided by AARP Hawaii. Visit the AARP Hawaii page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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