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Family Caregivers Subject of Senate Committee Hearing

The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to discuss the newly established National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). Last year, the 106th Congress authorized the program under the Older Americans Act (P.L. 106-501), and $125 million was appropriated for FY2001 to implement the program.

Committee Chair Larry Craig (R-ID) said, “Our first goal today will be to look at this new program before it gets fully implemented in the states, and to assess how the states are setting up their programs. I believe it is imperative we ensure that the new funding be focused as directly as possible on those things the caregivers themselves tell us they need most—namely, respite, education, and support.”

Ranking Democrat John Breaux (D-LA) added, “We must be sure in our haste to distribute the money that we listen to those who provide day-to-day care for their family members.”

Norman Thompson of the Administration on Aging (AoA) discussed the agency’s efforts to implement the new family caregiver program. He stated that under the authorizing legislation, the program “targets family caregivers of older adults and grandparents and relative caregivers of children not more than 18 years of age.” P.L. 106-501 also “directs states to give priority to services for older individuals with the greatest social and economic need, with particular attention to low-income older individuals and older individuals providing care and support to persons with mental retardation or who have developmental disabilities.”

To date, the AoA has distributed $113 million to states to provide services to family caregivers. These services include providing information about health conditions and community-based long-term care services; providing assistance in securing these services; providing respite care to caregivers; and providing supplemental services such as home modifications, incontinence supplies, and nutritional supplements.

Deborah Briceland-Betts of the Older Women’s League (OWL) framed caregiving as a woman’s issue, saying that nearly three-quarters of informal caregivers to seniors are women. “The typical informal caregiver is a married woman in her mid-forties to mid-fifties. She is employed full-time and also spends an average of 18 hours per week on caregiving. In addition to juggling her career with caring for a parent, partner or spouse, she may be the primary caregiver for her children and increasingly, for her grandchildren as well,” she told the committee.

While Ms. Briceland-Betts told the committee that “the direct services for caregivers that will be implemented through the NFCSP are clearly critical to older women,” she added: “The bad news is that we already know the program is woefully underfunded. In fact, the current funding level translates to roughly $5.00 in services for every caregiver in America.” She called upon the committee to expand the eligibility for caregivers under the program, “This new initiative targets only the informal caregivers of older adults….A spouse caring for a partner under the age of 60 is not eligible for these services.”Kristin Duke of the Cenla Area Agency on Aging in Louisiana discussed some of the difficulties facing Louisiana in implementing the program. “Lack of federal regulatory guidance…, coupled with slow responses by the state office and difficulties raising the 25 percent match requirements have combined to leave us in a position where caregiver support services will not be available before the last quarter of this year.”

Ms. Duke added that other states were experiencing similar problems. “The states that are moving ahead are generally those that have already developed caregiver support programs with state funding.” She added that “many states are proceeding cautiously in designing programs” because the program focuses on a “new constituency” and because some states are seeking input from caregivers directly.

Despite the initial problems, Ms. Duke stated that she believed “the Family Caregiver Support Program will be a resounding success.”

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