Both Congress and state governments continue to grapple with the current economic climate. States are challenged by revenue short-falls and growing Medicaid costs. Congress, meanwhile, is in the process of debating the annual appropriations bills, some of which fund programs that serve older persons and their caregivers.
As the 107th Congress wraps up, caregivers stand to benefit from increased funding and the potential to enact new programs. A $17.5 million increase has been approved for The National Family Caregiver Support Program, funded through the Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill for fiscal year 2003. Total funding would be $160.5 million for fiscal year 2003, including $7 million earmarked for Native American caregivers. The increase is $17.5 million above President Bush’s recommendation and prior year funding. The legislation must be approved by the full Senate, and will then await passage by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both the House and Senate are working on other legislation related to supporting caregivers and their families. Two bills in the Senate have committee support and await approval by the full Senate. Senator Clinton (D-NY) has introduced The Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2002 (S 2489), which would assist family caregivers by increasing the availability of respite care services and the training of respite care workers and volunteers. The Alz-heimer’s Disease Research, Prevention and Care Act (S 2059), sponsored by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), would expand federal investment into Alzheimer’s by establishing a program for caregiver research and providing $1.5 billion for NIH research and creation of an Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Group.
The U.S. House of Representatives has also moved forward on legislation that would provide assistance to caregivers. The Improving Access to Long-Term Care Act of 2002 (HR 4946) passed the House on July 25, 2002. This legislation would create a new $3,000 personal tax exemption for caregivers who provide long-term care for family members in their home. It also includes an above-the-line tax deduction for low- and moderate-income persons who purchase long-term care insurance. The bill is pending in the Senate.
Caregivers may also gain access to Medicare under The Living Well with Fatal Chronic Illness Act of 2002 (HR 5139). If enacted, the legislation would assist caregivers by providing access to Medicare benefits for certain caregivers 55-to-65 years of age and creating a long-term care tax credit. At this time, the House has not acted on HR 5139.
At the state level, California’s Governor Gray Davis has signed The Paid Family Leave Bill of 2002 (SB 1661) into law. This is the first comprehensive paid family leave act in the country. Other states are considering paid leave as well.
Hawaii is also on the forefront of enacting new long-term care policies. Governor Cayetano recently signed into law HB 2638, which provides new long-term care benefits for Hawaii’s elderly. The new law creates a trust fund to which workers contribute. When needed, residents will receive assistance from the fund to help pay for long-term care services. Additionally, the legislation calls for a long-term care summit to identify types and quality of long-term care services, service delivery system, and service delivery policies to ensure the development of a comprehensive and affordable long-term care system for the state.
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