On Jan. 1, Arizona residents caring for elderly or disabled family members became eligible for up to a $1,000 reimbursement from the state for expenses incurred in their caregiving responsibilities.
This is a trial program and the legislature allocated very little money – $1 million over two years – in a state with an estimated 800,000 residents caring for a disabled adult over 18.
But it’s a start.
Caregivers “aren’t asking for everything. They’re asking for a little bit to make their lives better,” said Elaine Ryan, vice president of government affairs for AARP, which has been on the forefront of advocating for such policies at the state level. “That’s the least we can do.”
Arizona’s program would defray a portion of caregivers’ spending. For older family members, this would cover technologies to aid older family members, such as hearing aids or computer programs, or shower grab bars and wheelchair ramps.
Like Arizona, state governments around the country, as laboratories for policy experimentation, have passed a hodgepodge of programs to support caregivers. Other bills approved in recent years range from New Jersey’s tax credit for military families caring for wounded veterans to Oregon’s paid family leave program for workers taking care of aging spouses, parents and grandparents.
The programs are a tacit acknowledgment of the enormous financial strain caregivers face – a strain that is only expected to grow and, increasingly, to affect Millennials as their baby boomer parents age.
However, it’s not easy to pass bills that require states to approve financial assistance or tax credits, because the work done quietly by family caregivers is often invisible and under-appreciated by the general public and federal and state legislators. …Learn More
What do groceries, GPS trackers, and prescription drug copayments have in common?
They are some of the myriad items caregivers may end up paying for to help out an ailing parent or other family member. And these are just the incidentals.
Three out of four caregivers have made changes to their jobs as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, whether going to flex time, working part-time, quitting altogether, or retiring early, according to a Transamerica Institute survey. To ease the financial toll, some caregivers dip into retirement savings or stop their 401(k) contributions. Not surprisingly, caregiving places the most strain on low-income families.
People choose to be caregivers because they feel it’s critically important to help a loved one, said Catherine Collinson, chief executive of the Transamerica Institute.
But, “There’s a cost associated with that and often people don’t think about it,” she said. “Caregiving is not only a huge commitment of time. It can also be a financial risk to the caregiver.”
The big message from Collinson and the other speakers at an MIT symposium last month was: employers and politicians need to acknowledge caregivers’ challenges and start finding effective ways to address them.
Liz O’Donnell was the poster child for disrupted work. As her family’s sole breadwinner, she cobbled together vacation days to care for her mother and father after they were diagnosed with terminal illnesses – ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s disease – on the same day, July 1, 2014.
Her high-level job gave her the flexibility to work outside the office. But work suffered as she ran from place to place dealing with one urgent medical issue after another. She made business calls from the garden at a hospice, worked while she was at the hospital, and learned to tilt the camera for video conferences so coworkers wouldn’t know she was in her car.
“I felt so alone that summer,” said O’Donnell, who wrote a book about her experience. “We’ve got to do better, and I know we can do better.” …Learn More
Francey Jesson’s life took a dramatic turn in 2014 when she lost her job at Santa Fe, New Mexico’s airport after a dispute with the city. In 2015, she relocated to Sarasota, Florida to be close to her family. One day, her mother, who has dementia, started crying over the telephone.
Jesson had always known she would be her mother’s caregiver, and that time had arrived. She and her brother combined resources and bought a house in Sarasota, and Jesson and her mother moved in.
“It wasn’t difficult to decide. What was difficult was everything that came with it,” she said.
One reason for the rocky adjustment was that Jesson, who is single, had been preparing herself mentally to take care of her mother’s physical needs in old age. But Kay Jesson, at 88, is in pretty good health. She requires full-time care because she has cerebral vascular dementia, the roots of which can be traced back to a stroke more than 15 years ago.
She is still able to function and has not lost her social skills. Her muscle memory is also intact, allowing her to chop onions while her daughter cooks dinner. But she forgets to turn off the water in the bathtub, mixes up her pills, can’t remember who her great-grandchildren are, and is unable to distinguish fresh food from rotting food in the refrigerator.
She’s also developed a childlike impatience and constantly interrupts her daughter, who works from home for her brother’s online company. “When she’s hungry, she’s hungry,” Francey Jesson said about her mother.
“Nothing ever stops for me. I can’t sit in a room and not be interrupted,” she said. “Sometimes I just want to watch TV for an hour.”
One way she copes is to approach caregiving with a combination of love and bemusement. She uses “therapeutic fibbing” to protect her mother’s feelings, for example, telling her that a friend who died has moved instead to Kansas so she doesn’t grieve over and over again. Francey Jesson also resorts to humor in a blog she writes about her day-to-day experiences. In one article, “Debating with Dementia,” she recounted a conversation about the best way to repair some bathroom floor tile: …Learn More
Retirement, as portrayed in TV commercials, is the time to indulge a passion, whether tennis, enjoying more time with a spouse, frequent socializing, or civic engagement.
Boston University sociologist Deborah Carr isn’t buying this idealized picture of aging.
“This gilded existence is not within the grasp of all older adults,” she argues in “Golden Years? Social Inequality in Later Life.” “For those on the lower rungs of the ladder,” she writes, retirement is “marked by daily struggle, physical health challenges and economic scarcity.”
Her book, which mines multidisciplinary research on aging, reaches the distressing conclusion that economic inequality not only exists but that it becomes more pronounced as people age and become vulnerable. And this problem will grow and affect more people as the population gets older.
Poverty has actually declined among retirees since the 1960s. But by every measure – health, money, social and family relationships, mental well-being – seniors who have a lower socioeconomic status are at a big disadvantage. They have more financial problems, which creates stress, and they are more isolated and die younger.
Throughout the book, Carr documents the myriad ways the disparities, which begin at birth, reinforce each other as people grow up and grow old.
“Advantage begets further advantage, and disadvantage begets further disadvantage,” Carr concludes. For the less fortunate, “old age can be the worst of times,” she said. …Learn More
Created in the 1930s, Social Security’s spousal benefit – it’s half of a retired husband’s benefit – was the way to compensate housewives for the work of raising children.
The world has changed, but Social Security hasn’t been modified to reflect the rise of the full-time, working mother.
Today, married women frequently have earned enough to collect Social Security based on their own employment histories, rather than a spousal benefit. The problem comes when their earnings are reduced – and ultimately their Social Security benefits – because they disrupted their career paths and sacrificed pay raises to care for their children.
Single motherhood has also become very common, which means that a wide swath of women have no access to spousal and survivor benefits at all. Due to a higher divorce rate, one in four first marriages don’t last the full 10 years that Social Security requires to qualify for these benefits.
The erosion of spousal benefits points to a future in which “large numbers of women are going to move through retirement with more disadvantages” than previous generations, concludes a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research.
This problem could be addressed if Social Security gave credit to parents for caregiving. Caregiver credits are already pervasive in Europe, including Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and they take various forms.
In this country, policy experts have proposed two different approaches to help parents with children under age six by increasing the earnings that dictate the size of their benefit checks. …Learn More
We’re kicking off 2019 with our periodic review of the most-read articles over the past year, based on the blog traffic tracked by Google Analytics.
Judging by the comments readers leave at the end of the blog posts, baby boomers are really diving into the nitty-gritty of preparing themselves mentally and financially for retirement. Financial advisers also frequently comment on Squared Away, and we hope some of our web traffic is because they’re sharing our blog with their clients.
Last year, Squared Away received recognition from other media. The Wall Street Journal recommended us to its readers for the blog’s “wonderful mix of topics.” The Los Angeles Times picked up our article, “Why Retirement Inequality is Rising.” MarketWatch published our posts about how pharmacists can help seniors reduce their prescription drug prices and about a Social Security reform to reduce elderly poverty.
The most popular blogs in 2018 fall into five categories:
The federal government has released online brochures to give people who are thrust into a caregiving role a better idea of what they’re getting into.
“It’s a big shock at first and a big adjustment,” an Episcopal priest says in the video above. He became his mother’s caregiver after she developed dementia.
But people who anticipate they will one day be a caregiver can soften the blow by studying up on their future responsibilities with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new guides to caring for a loved one.
The brochures are free and cover four financial responsibilities: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veterans Affairs beneficiary.
They can be downloaded in English or in Spanish at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website, or the agency will mail them.
CFPB has also posted brochures detailing the caregiver regulations and laws specific to six states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The state guides each cover the same four topics: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary.
Non-profit organizations in Michigan and Texas have also published their own brochures on caregiver issues in their states – links to these brochures are also on CFPB’s website. …Learn More
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