Although the help it would offer is only a drop in the bucket in terms of the costs incurred by those who care for their parents, I was thrilled last night when Hillary Clinton announced a tax relief plan for caregivers.
Clinton’s plan, announced in Clinton, Iowa, which is only about a half-hour drive from where I live, would offer a tax credit to offset up to $6,000 annually in caregiving costs, including lost wages. You could write off 20 percent of the expenses for a maximum tax savings of $1,200 annually.
“The lost wages and the work that is sometimes given up are costing families — especially women, who make up the majority of both paid and unpaid caregivers,” Clinton said as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
“I really do want to be a president who is there for you,” the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa quoted Clinton as saying.
I met Clinton while working as a reporter at the Quad-City Times in 2007. During the Democratic primary, she had come to the newspaper seeking its endorsement and went from desk to desk to shake the hand of every person in the newsroom. I got to say hello to Clinton again last year when she was campaigning for Bruce Braley in Davenport, Iowa. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. I snapped the photo with this story with one hand while extending my other hand to shake her’s.
I resigned from the Times Nov. 1, 2010, when the stress associated with checking on dad got to be too much. I was drinking a lot, too.
Caregiving isn’t always about wiping dirty bottoms or changing diapers. It’s about providing companionship; offering direction and assistance during episodes of confusion (I don’t understand this bill); answering telephone calls when a lonely parent wants to talk and has nobody else to converse with, and simply popping in to make sure everything is OK. It is about making sure they eat, even if it means running to get them a cheeseburger twice a day because it’s the only thing they will eat.
My dad wisely stopped using the stove long before we moved in together. I lived with him for a year prior to his admission to the hospital during a prolonged state of confusion. The short hospital stay was followed by a trio of facilities, including a nursing home, memory care, and a nursing home again, before he died at the end of September of a rare brain disease called FTD, or “Pick’s Disease.”
It goes without saying that leading up to that there were numerous doctor appointments that my brother and I both would take him to. Naturally all of the above-mentioned duties not only were time consuming, but some employers are more understanding than others. Most people are forced to quit at some point when caring for a parent with dementia. “We need you here,” employers tell employees.
A way to keep earning Social Security credits
The Times story by longtime Iowa politics reporter Ed Tibbetts also said Clinton proposes allowing people who leave the workforce to care for a parent to still get Social Security credit when their retirement benefits are calculated.
Both proposals would need congressional approval. Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, sat down with caregivers in Des Moines last week for a roundtable discussion. He has pressed Clinton to reveal a specific proposal for offering paid leave when an employee has a child, as he has done.
“It is unconscionable that millions of new parents in this country are forced back to work because they don’t have the income to stay home with their newborn babies,” Sanders said in a news release posted on his website.
According to the news release, Sanders’ family leave legislation would be paid for by “a small payroll tax totaling $1.38 a week for a typical worker,” which Sanders called “a good investment.” The International Labor Organization found in 2014 that out of 170 countries, all but two provide cash benefits to women during maternity leave: the United States and Papua New Guinea.
The news release, nor media coverage of Sanders’ plan, says anything about paid leave for caregivers of elderly parents or grandparents. Sanders does support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would offer paid time off to care for a parent, not to exceed 60 qualified caregiving days per calendar year.
According to Govtrack’s prognosis tool, there is zero chance of the bill being enacted.
Republican candidate Marco Rubio also has a modest proposal for offering relief to caregivers. “I believe one of the greatest threats to family life today is that too many Americans have to give up being with loved ones in times of great need in order to avoid losing their jobs,” he writes in a Fox News opinion piece. “I will begin to solve this problem by providing a limited 25% non-refundable tax credit to any business that offers between four and twelve weeks of paid leave to workers with qualifying family or medical issues – for example, a newborn child in need of care, an elderly parent with declining health, a personal health crisis, or a spouse’s deployment.”
All of the proposals, however small, are a great first step toward resolving what is promising to become a national crisis as we grapple to care for the 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age each and every day. Those that develop dementia or other problems rendering 24-hour care are looking at assisted living costs averaging $3,500 per month and nursing home bills of $7,000 per month, on average.
Read more: No help caring for your elderly parents until they’re broke
Even these modest proposals by these three presidential candidates help put off the amount of time a caregiver may decide on placement of their loved in a facility, which often results in a bankrupt parent, sometimes rather quickly.
I believe this is a problem that needs to be taken up by the private sector as well. In a piece I wrote last year titled, “Caregivers for elderly parents are the new ‘Working Moms,’” I described the failure of corporate America to address these issues. Smart employers are going to need to begin offering benefits, or at least compassion in terms of needed time off, to workers caring for an aging parent. Otherwise they will be unable to retain talent.
Already, a private sector program called “Dementia Friendly America” has shown success in helping communities care for residents with dementia. Shortly after the White House Conference on Aging in July, the program announced it is expanding. You can read about that in this piece that I wrote for Healthline Contributors.
I continue to hope and pray that our free market, capitalist economy will right itself and fix these ills.