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The RAISE Act: Bipartisan Legislation will Aid Family Caregivers

Last week on our AgingOptions blog we posted this article describing how serving as a family caregiver while holding down a regular job is “a recipe for stress.” But now we’re pleased – and a bit surprised – to be able to report some good news on the caregiving front: the successful passage of bi-partisan legislation, all too rare these days, designed to provide what experts in the field call a “national strategy to support family caregivers.”

The newly passed bill, now on the way to the President’s desk for signature, is called the RAISE Act, or more formally the “Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act.” (This is not to be confused with another proposed piece of legislation, also called the RAISE Act, which deals with immigration law. In Washington, D.C., nothing is ever simple.)  We found this article from the aging website NextAvenue, written by aging expert Richard Eisenberg, describing the RAISE Act and what it would do for the estimated 40 million family caregivers in America, those relatives and partners who provide medical, household and financial assistance to loved ones, often without pay. Nancy LeaMond of the AARP calls family caregivers “the backbone of our care system in America,” and says that as a nation “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.” This new law, for which AARP has been advocating for years, may be a significant step in the right direction.

Writing in NextAvenue, Eisenberg says that it’s common for family caregivers to experience a great deal of emotional strain and mental health problems, especially depression. Their physical health also tends to suffer compared with their peers. This leads to stress and isolation. And on top of that there’s the often-hidden financial cost which affects about 8 out of 10 caregivers to the tune of almost $7,000 average out of pocket costs per year, according to AARP studies.

In mid-2017, Eisenberg writes, the Society for Human Resource Management released a study called “Daughters in the Workplace” (described in this blog post) which surveyed 1,001 working women aged 45-60 who are also caregivers. Some of the findings were both disturbing and sobering and provide some tangible evidence of the problems these women face. For example:

  • Half the respondents said they “have to choose between being a good employee and being a good daughter”
  • One-quarter of the women described “a stigma attached with taking time off to care for a parent or parent-in-law” at their workplace, and a similar number described their supervisor as “unsympathetic when it comes to their balancing work and caregiver responsibilities”
  • About one in eight report they have been “passed over for a promotion or raise, or have been penalized at work due to caregiving” and almost 10 percent say their jobs are “currently at risk due to their caregiving responsibilities”
  • The average caregiver daughter uses 29 percent of her paid time off to meet her caregiving responsibilities, which consume an average of 14 hours per week.

“So much of caregiving goes underreported because of the stigma,” said one analyst. “It’s fun to talk about children at work, but it’s not fun to talk about our declining parents.”  No wonder caregivers can often feel so isolated and misunderstood.

So what will this new legislation, the RAISE Act, actually accomplish?  According to the article in NextAvenue, the new law requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “develop, maintain and update an integrated national strategy to support family caregivers” – support that experts agree is sorely needed. “Under the RAISE Act,” Eisenberg explains, “HHS will create a national family caregiver strategy by bringing together federal agencies and representatives from the private and public sectors (like family caregivers, health care providers, employers and state and local officials) in public advisory council meetings designed to make recommendations. The agency will have 18 months to develop its initial strategy and then must provide annual updates.”

Besides providing caregiver training, the new law will hopefully expand respite options for caregivers, improve their financial security, strengthen workplace protection and enhance federal programs that might provide caregivers with more support. “America’s beleaguered, loving family caregivers are eagerly waiting” for these improvements, says Eisenberg.  Here at AgingOptions we hope the new law is signed quickly by President Trump and that it brings about some of these long-overdue benefits; however, as it always the case with government programs, the devil is in the details. We’ll keep you posted as new policies to benefit family caregivers become more widespread, hopefully as a result of the new legislation.

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(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)