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Congress examines support for caregivers as millions rely on home & community-based care

By Kirstin Garriss,

2023-03-14
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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are evaluating federal support and resources for caregivers.

This comes as more families are stepping in to care for seniors and people with disabilities. According to recent research from AARP , about 53 million people are now unpaid family caregivers.

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Millions of seniors depend on caregivers every day to help with simple tasks like eating and managing their medications.

But many of these caregivers, who are often minority women, are also living in poverty.

“There are no paid days off, there’s barely any training and there are no medical benefits,” said Jacinta Burgess, a home caregiver from Pennsylvania. “If I had a livable wage, I could live not just survive.”

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Burgess told Senators she earns less than $14 an hour as the primary caregiver for her mother.

Some Democrats say this is one reason why they’re pushing for the “Better Care Better Jobs Act.” It would provide money for state Medicaid programs to improve home and community-based services. They also believe it will help boost the caregiving workforce.

Some Republicans, Sen. Mike Braun, Ranking Member of the U.S. Special Committee on Aging , agree these services are important.

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But Braun said inflation is still too high, and they believe that measures could make it worse.

“The federal government wants to rebalance spending on Long-Term Services and Supports from institutional care to Home and Community Based Services,” said Sen. Braun, (R – Indiana) . “Rebalancing” means shifting weight from one side to another. It does not mean adding more weight to a system that is already out of balance.”

For caregivers like Burgess, she tells lawmakers they are struggling.

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“My mother has to help me pay the rent and utilities out of her month Social Security benefits. If we didn’t have each other, my mother and I would be homeless and struggling even more than we are now,” she said.

Committee Chair Senator Bob Casey also introduced a new bill called the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Access Act . His office said it would put home care on equal footing with long-term care facilities under Medicaid.

“It is time we make the smart economic investment in home and community-based services. My HCBS Access Act would provide seniors and people with disabilities with a real and significant choice between receiving care in a long-term care facility or at home, where so many of them wish to stay, and ensure that paid caregivers can turn poverty jobs into family-sustaining jobs,” said Sen. Casey, (D – Pennsylvania).

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