Unbelievable? Believe it! So, how can those unpaid caregivers that provide such an extraordinary contribution be acknowledged? That is a question on which Delegate Sam Rasoul, representing the 11th House District of the General Assembly of Virginia, has focused for some years now.
Rasoul joined David DeBiasi, AARP Virginia’s Director of Advocacy, to host a recent virtual legislative forum to recap activity in the 2022 General Assembly impacting Virginians age 50+. Rasoul has served in the General Assembly since 2014 representing Roanoke. Rasoul said he is the child of immigrants who has been involved in serving the public nearly all his life, first standing on a crate to ring up customers at his parents’ corner store at the age of five. He worked two jobs in high school and college to make his way. He has a degree in Business Administration from Roanoke College and an MBA from the University of Hawaii. Rasoul began his career in non-profit health care management. His background in health care management along with the role he plays as caregiver of his parents, contribute to his heightened interest in the role all caregivers play in the larger picture of health care management, he said.
In 2020 Rasoul introduced HB 361 that would have created a non-refundable income tax credit for expenses incurred by an eligible individual in caring for an eligible family member. The credit would have equaled 50% of eligible expenditures incurred by the caregiver not to exceed $1,000. Income limits were included in the proposal. It was ultimately referred to the Health and Human Resources subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee where it was not voted upon. Funding, as is often the case, was the issue raised that led to it being left, “laying on the table” i.e., not passed. Rasoul was not dissuaded by the 2020 experience. Once again, this year, he brought up the need to offer relief to unpaid caregivers.
DeBiasi cited an AARP study that found that caregivers spend an average over $7,000 a year of their own money and that long distance caregivers spend over $9,000 a year. Virginia, he says, has over one million caregivers putting in nearly a billion hours of care a year. AARP estimates the economic contribution of caregivers in Virginia to be $11.2 billion annually. DeBiasi noted if a million people are putting in a billion hours of care that paid $10 an hour, that would be $10 billion in economic contributions.
When Rasoul began in the 2022 General Assembly session to discuss the potential revival of his 2020 proposal, he was met with reaction that inspired him to rethink how to reach some level of success. “What if,” he asked, “we shift from a tax credit to a tax deduction?” The financial impact to the budget would be less while at the same time “keeping the conversation going.” Rasoul expressed his satisfaction in being able to work with those across the aisle to gain a level of bipartisan support. Regrettably, while he revised his bill (HB 291) to be a tax deduction, it was reported out of the Finance Committee, but it did not make it out of Appropriations. Rasoul said he is well aware that legislation may take years and years of attempts before it passes.
Other legislation supported by AARP Virginia regarding nursing home reform and implementation of staffing standards has been introduced repeatedly for two decades by Delegate Vivian Watts of the 39th House of Delegates District.
Reducing prescription drug pricing is another area where Rasoul and AARP share common goals. He acknowledges that while bold action is needed, the influence of Big Pharma is strong.
“They do not want us to take a look at it,” he said, “but hopefully we can improve there.” AARP’s efforts in the General Assembly have focused on getting legislation passed that would set up a prescription drug affordability board that would review egregious price increases. While it did not come to pass, AARP Virginia and Rasoul say they are not giving up.
When asked what constituents could do to increase attention to these and other issues, Rasoul was clear. “Contact your representatives” not just during sessions, but anytime. Keep issues “top of [their] mind.”
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