At 40 million strong, family caregivers are the backbone of our care system, helping parents, spouses and other loved ones live independently at home — where they want to be.
The unpaid care they provide, valued at about $470 billion annually, can often be a 24/7 commitment. They take on tasks that can be stressful, exhausting and overwhelming. Many also juggle full- or part-time jobs, and some are still raising their families.
As family caregivers face physical, emotional and financial challenges, we can take some commonsense steps to help make their lives a little bit easier.
That’s why in 2014, AARP launched a multistate campaign to support family caregivers with help at home, workplace protections, training and more. Working with governors, state legislators, other policymakers and community partners, we’ve been fighting to advance policy options that will help family caregivers — and the loved ones they care for.
Over the last two and a half years, we’ve made a lot of progress. As I look back, several milestones stand out.
- In 2014, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to pass the CARE Act, a no-cost, commonsense solution to support family caregivers from the moment their loved ones enter the hospital to when they transition home. Since then, 30 additional states have followed suit and enacted the CARE Act, a monumental step forward.
- This year, Vermont and New York passed historic paid leave bills so family caregivers who work don’t have to worry about losing their jobs — or pay — when they need to take time off to care for a loved one, including older parents.
The progress made extends far beyond these highlights. Since 2014, more than 100 pieces of legislation, across nearly every state, have been passed to give family caregivers and their loved ones the help they need. This includes:
- Nursing scope of practice and nurse delegation: cutting through the red tape to allow nurses to have the full authority to heal
- Respite care: giving family caregivers some relief from their caregiving duties
- Uniform guardianship: helping family caregivers navigate financial challenges by making sure adult guardianship laws are consistent and honored from state to state
- Power of attorney: helping protect vulnerable adults and provide their family caregivers with the tools they need to make important financial decisions
- Telehealth: enabling family caregivers to take advantage of technologies that will help them in their caregiving role
- Care at home and in the community: significantly increasing — or protecting against substantial decreases to — access to services at home in the community
- And more.
In the last six months alone, 29 states have passed legislation to bring greater support to family caregivers.
With all the headway we’ve made, and all the bills passed, what stands out most in my mind, are the family caregivers we’re fighting for — like Tamesha from Pennsylvania, Denise from New Hampshire, Chad from Hawaii and Tracey from North Carolina. For them our work is not just about legislation passed, it’s about support now.
To all family caregivers out there, we’re committed to fighting for you. While great strides have been made, we still have a lot of work to do. To stay up to date on our caregiving campaign in the states, sign up for the AARP Advocates e-newsletter or visit your state Web page.
Elaine Ryan is the vice president of state advocacy and strategy integration (SASI) for AARP. She leads a team of dedicated legislative staff members who work with AARP state offices to advance advocacy with governors and state legislators, helping people 50-plus attain and maintain their health and financial security.