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Support Bills that Support Family Caregivers

Putting their mother Emily, a retired school teacher in a nursing home was never an option for the Peters family when Emily was diagnosed with dementia.

“We had a mother that was so amazing that, we totally want to do this. We have what it takes to malama her and that is aloha” Manuwai Peters said. This – caregiving so their mother can live at home – means the five siblings take turns watching, bathing, toileting and cooking for their mother and paying for diapers, transportation, medicines and caregiving supplies. It also means spending about $1,000 a month on nursing aides to cover the times when they are busy or working.

The Peters family is among the 154,000 family caregivers in Hawai`i, who put in 144 million hours of unpaid care a year. If they were paid, their services would be worth $2.6 billion. Without families like the Peters, Hawai`i’s long-term care system would collapse. They save the state money by keeping their loved ones out of expensive nursing homes by caring for loved ones at home, where most of us want to be. They do it out of love, even though caregiving can be physically, emotionally and financially challenging.

AARP Hawai`i believes family caregivers deserve and need our support. We are advocating for a tax credit for caregivers both in Congress (The Credit for Caring Act) and in the state Legislature (HB1769). We also support HB2404 and HB 1776 to expand eligibility for a state dependent care tax credit of up to $10,000 for working caregivers, SB 2474 to create a paid family leave insurance program and HB 2215 for funding for home and community based services.

Family caregivers like the Peters are the unsung heros of a broken long-term care system. They too often put their finances and jobs at risk to provide unpaid care. In fact, the average family caregiver spends about $7,200 a year, that’s about a quarter of their income on caregiving.

Chances are you have been or are a caregiver, know someone who is a caregiver or may need care as you age. My family and I cared for my mother who suffered a stroke, dementia and from falls for more than five years until she passed last year.

A dependent tax credit would have helped my sister, who lived with my mom. I might have been able to deduct some of my expenses with a family caregiver credit. In many ways a tax credit is the appropriate and easiest way to help caregivers because families can keep receipts. A grant administered through a government agency would likely require much more paperwork and higher administrative expenses.

It’s true that we would have spent the money no matter what because we loved our mom. But doing the right thing for someone you love shouldn’t be the struggle that it is. Lawmakers should do the right thing and help family caregivers by passing common-sense legislation to ease their burden.

The bills have crossed over and are still alive. But the fight for caregivers is only half done. Lawmakers need to pass the bills and help family caregivers by passing common-sense legislation to ease their burden.

If you want to help, let your federal and state representative know that you support family caregivers. If you’re a caregiver, share your personal story of how a tax credit or paid family leave would help you. Learn more about our fight to support family caregivers at

Keali‘i Lopez is the state director of AARP Hawaii.

A version of this story originally appeared in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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