By Philip Lentz
Audrieka Goodbee, 66, and her sister, Jill Jefferson, 64, are good daughters. They’re doing everything they can to help their parents—Clarence Jefferson, 97, and Emma Jefferson, 91—continue to live in their Co-op City apartment in the Bronx.
Clarence, a World War II veteran, is blind and hard of hearing, and both he and Emma are beginning to experience dementia.
Although the daughters live upstate, they buy food, medications and supplies for their parents. Recently, they arranged for 24-hour home health care.
“We want to make sure they’re OK because they can’t be left alone,” said Goodbee, a special education teacher in Albany. “They don’t want to be in a nursing home, and we’re trying to honor their wishes.”
But doing so can be expensive. Their parents receive Social Security and food from Meals on Wheels, but it is not enough to cover their costs for home health care and other needs.
Initially, the sisters paid for an aide to visit for four hours a day. Now, with round-the-clock care, they pay more than $1,100 a week out of their own pockets, with other expenses running up to $200 per month.
“I want to do right by my parents,” said Goodbee, whose sister is retired and lives in Kingston. “That’s how they raised us. I can’t imagine not doing this.”
In the state there are nearly 2.6 million family caregivers like the Jefferson daughters, and many of them face the same financial pressures. AARP studies show that the average caregiver spends nearly $7,000 a year.
That is why AARP New York’s top priorities for next year’s legislative session are enacting a tax credit for such caregivers to offset their expenses and increasing funding for non-Medicaid in-home services.
The tax credit would reimburse caregivers for 50 percent of out-of-pocket costs—up to $3,500—for individuals with a gross income of up to $75,000 and for couples with income up to $150,000.
Aging in place
The credit could be used for home health care, transportation and home modifications. AARP is also urging the state to increase next year’s Office for the Aging budget to $271 million, with $25 million more for services such as transportation for medical visits, home-delivered meals and respite for family caregivers.
The goal, said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel, is to help people stay in their homes.
“If they can’t age in place, they may have no other alternative but a nursing home, and that costs,” she said.
“Who pays? We all pay. Staying in their home is the way to age with dignity, and that is the wish of people as they age.”
Since Medicaid pays for most nursing home costs, increased financial help for family caregivers would reduce the state’s Medicaid expenditures as well as improve the quality of life of older New Yorkers, Finkel said.
“The average family caregiver spends 20 percent of their earnings out of pocket for persons to remain in their homes, which is crazy,” Finkel said.
That figure is even higher for minority caregivers—41 percent of earnings for black women and 47 percent of earnings for Hispanic women.
The tax credit would provide immediate help to family caregivers like Goodbee and her sister. “That would have a huge impact,” she said.
Philip Lentz is a writer living in New York City.