It’s Time to Pass RAISE Family Caregivers Act

Published in the Pawtucket Times on September 18, 2017

Editor’s Note: Four months after S. 1028, titled the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act, was introduced in the Senate, an updated House companion bill (H.R. 3759) gets dropped into the chamber’s legislative hopper. On September 13, Reps. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) along with original cosponsors Reps Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the legislation that calls for the development of a strategy to support family caregivers. It was referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce. At press time, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) will shortly become a cosponsor of H.R. 3759.

On May 3, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chairman of Senate Aging Committee, and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Michael Bennet (D-CO) signing on as cosponsors. At press time, there are now 12 cosponsors. Sen. Collins and Baldwin and Reps. Harper and Castor first introduced the family caregiver legislation in July 2015, and it passed the Senate unanimously in December 2015.

Eight days later the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously passed this legislation by a voice vote later that month and the bipartisan legislation will now be considered by the full Senate.

The Nuts and Bolts

The House bill introduced this week is updated from the Senate version introduced in early May. That Senate version is almost identical to the Senate-passed version from 2015.

The RAISE Family Caregivers Act directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and update a national strategy to support family caregivers. The legislation would also create a Family Caregiving Advisory Council comprised of relevant Federal agencies and non-federal members, also including family caregivers, older adults with long-term care needs, individuals with disabilities, employers, health and social service providers, advocacy organizations engaged in family caregiving, state and local officials, and others with expertise in family caregiving.

The newly established Advisory Council would be charged with making recommendations to the Secretary. The strategy would be updated to reflect new
developments. The Advisory Council’s initial report would include an initial inventory and assessment of federally funded caregiver efforts that would be incorporated into the initial strategy. The strategy would then identify recommended actions that government, providers, communities, and others could take to support family caregivers.

The activities under the bill would be funded from existing funding appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services. No new funding is
authorized and it would sunset in five years.

This bipartisan caregiver legislation has been endorsed by over 60 aging and disability organizations, including the AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, the w Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Arc.

Shouldering Caregiver Burdens

“Every day, more than 40 million ordinary Americans take on the challenge of caring for parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other loved ones so they can live independently at home and in their communities,” says AARP Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond. “The RAISE Family Caregivers Act is a commonsense, bipartisan step to recognize and support our nation’s family caregivers. AARP appreciates the leadership of Representatives Harper and Castor, and we urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation,” she notes.

According to LeaMond, the nation’s family caregivers assist loved ones with eating, bathing, dressing, transportation, medical tasks, managing finances, and more. Many do this while working full time and raising families. The unpaid care family caregivers provide—37 billion hours valued at about $470 billion annually—helps delay or prevent more costly care and unnecessary hospitalizations, saving taxpayer dollars.

“Caregiving is, in one way or another, now an inevitable part of everyone’s future,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “It has been said that if you ask people about caregiving they fall into one of three or more categories: They know a caregiver, they are a caregiver or they will require a caregiver. AARP works hard at the state and federal level to direct resources and support to family caregivers. In Rhode Island, we have fought successfully for temporary caregiver insurance (TCI), the CARE Act, accessory dwelling unit legislation and a new fund to help offset the cost of ‘livable’ home improvements that benefit caregiving and make aging in place easier.”

“In the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, another key caregiving bill will be before lawmakers,” Connell added. “Earned Paid Sick Leave will be especially helpful to working family caregivers whose employers do not offer paid time off. Temporary caregiver insurance requires several days advanced notice. That can be helpful, for example, if a family member has a scheduled test or medical procedure. Earned paid sick leave would allow employees to used paid sick time when they are called away to attend to immediate emergencies.”

“The RAISE Family Caregivers Act is intended to provide a policy framework for improving caregiver support from national level down to states, cities and towns. In short, where the caregiver rubber meets the road,” Connell said.

Caregiver Legislative Proposal a Bipartisan Issue

According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, there are 40 million family caregivers in the United States who provided an estimated $470 billion in uncompensated long-term care in 2013. In the Ocean State at any time during the year, an estimated 134,000 Rhode Island family caregivers step up to provide 124 million hours of care for an aging parent or loved one, most often helping them to live independently in their own homes.

With many caregivers putting their own health at risk, experiencing experience high-levels of stress and have a greater incidence of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and depression, these individuals need the support and assistance that the enactment of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act could help bring about. Both sides of the aisle must put their political differences aside and push for passage. Both Republicans and Democrats shoulder caregiving duties.

Quickly passing the RAISE Family Caregivers Act in the Senate and House and sending it to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature is the right thing to do.

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AARP: Social Security is an Economic Generator

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 4, 2013

For those who view Social Security bennies as just a drain on the nation’s economy, just adding the nation’s spiraling deficit, AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group has always seen it differently. Now, according to a new report, released by AARP’s Public Policy Institute on Oct. 1, 2013, researchers found that for each dollar paid to Social Security beneficiaries generates nearly two dollars in spending by individuals and businesses, adding about $1.4 trillion in total economic output to the U.S. economy in 2012. More over, the report’s findings indicate that $762 billion paid in Social Security benefits in 2012 helped Americans keep or find more than nine million jobs.

If Congress is successful in putting Social Security on the budgetary chopping block, the economy will take a hit, warns the AARP report. According to the reports analysis, “reducing benefits by 25 percent across the board in 2012 (by $190 billion), which the Social Security will project will occur around the year 2033, could cost the U.S. economy about 2.3 million jobs, $349 billion in economic output, about $194 billion in GDP, and about $83 billion in employee compensation.”

A Multiplier Effect When Benefits Spent

The 25 page report, Social Security’s Impact on the National Economy, authored by Gary Koening of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, and Al Myles, of Mississippi State University, details the powerful multiplier effect created when Social Security recipients spend their benefits and the companies which receive those dollars spend their profits and pay their employees, who in turn spend their wages. The report provides both national and state-level data.

The researchers use an economic modeling system known as IMPLAN to calculate the multiplier effect and trace the impact of Social Security spending through the national and state economies.

“This report tells us that any adjustments Washington makes to Social Security will have a profound effect on individuals of all ages, businesses and our economy as a whole,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “That’s why AARP is fighting the chained CPI and calling for a national conversation about the future of Social Security – so those who paid into the system can have a voice in the debate and so future generations get the benefits they’ve earned.”

Social Security benefit payments in 2012 supported more than $370 billion in salaries, wages and compensation for workers. Of the more than nine million jobs supported by Social Security spending, about four million were in just ten industries. Nationally, the largest employment impacts were seen in the food services, real estate, health care and retail industries.

In addition to illustrating Social Security’s vital role in supporting national and local economies, jobs and workers’ incomes, this report reiterates the importance of Social Security as a vital source of income for millions of Americans. Social Security benefits keep 22 million people out of poverty, including more than 15 million older Americans, and serve as the foundation of a secure retirement for millions more.

AARP’s Public Policy Institute calls the Social Security Program critical in promoting the income stability among the nation’s seniors, by providing a steady stream of income to replace wages lost due to retirement. “About 1 out of 6 Americans – 57 million people – receive Social Security benefits, including 9 out of the 10 individuals aged 65 and older,” says the Washington, DC-based policy institute.

According to the Social Security Administration, the program is a key source of retirement income for the nation’s retirees, noting that “it is the only inflation-protected, guaranteed income they have. Among the age 65 and over recipients, 23 percent of the married couples and 46 percent of the unmarried couples rely on the program for 90 percent or more of their income. Also, 53 percent of the married couples and 74 percent of those unmarried in this age group receive 50 percent or more of their income from Social Security.

Experts Weighing in on AARP Report

According to Lisa Mensah, Executive Director, of the Aspen Institute’s Initiative on Financial Security, “The AARP study fills a key void in the debate around Social Security. Social Security is not only important for individual financial security but also it has a major impact supporting jobs and economic activity in every state. When weighing Social Security as a budget matter, the fiscal coin has two sides—what it costs and what it delivers—and too often what Social Security delivers for the broader economy is poorly understood.”

Adds, Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
“In a context where the economy is below full employment, as is clearly the case today, Social Security provides an important boost to demand. The report it released showed the importance of Social Security in each of the 50 states. When the economy is near full employment, the demand generating by Social Security may not be needed, but for now and the foreseeable future this demand will be providing an important boost to growth.”

Impact on State Economies

The AARP report details the spending of Social Security checks on the economy on all fifty states. Of course, California, the state with the largest economy in the nation, has the largest impact. In this state along, Social Security benefits supported 888,000 jobs, $147.4 billion in output, and $8.7 billion in state and local revenues.

Meanwhile, for the littlest state in the nation, “People need to consider a Rhode Island economy without Social Security benefits,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Could the state live without $2.9 billion a year in federal money being spent on medications, rent, food, utilities, clothing and services?

“When a person spends Social Security benefits, the lawn gets mowed, the driveway gets plowed, CVS sells toilet paper, and the corner market sells milk. Someone gets paid and then spends that money – which means retailers and service providers are getting paid. And then they spend. It’s a cycle, and each step along the way, sales tax is collected by the state – more than $280.7 million,” says Connell. The AARP study shows that this spending supports 33,000 jobs in the Ocean State. So, Social Security makes life better for retirees and people with disabilities, it supports Rhode Island jobs and Rhode Island taxpayers benefit significantly, she says.

“Social Security was engineered with this in mind. The money paid into the system is not doing much if it stays in the Treasury,” observes Connell. “Social Security allows people to live more comfortably, improves their health and quality of life, and benefits the economy,” she adds.

“Seen this way, what would we be saving if we cut Social Security benefits?” quips Connell.

Congressman David Cicilline notes, this report confirms that almost 80 years after it was established, Social Security strengthens Rhode Island’s economy and provides significant benefits for families across this state.” Cicilline, representing the Ocean State’s 1st Congressional District, states that while other lawmakers propose Social Security benefit cuts of one kind or another; he has introduced legislation to protect the program by strongly opposing the use of chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases.

In Conclusion

Inside the Washington, DC beltway, Congressional lawmakers continue to seek out ways to rein in rising Social Security program costs. Some call for a combination of reducing program benefits while raising revenues. Others support only benefit cuts warning that raising the payroll tax or bringing other forms of additional revenue would hurt the nation’s fragile economy.

After the Federal Shutdown, when Congress comes back to continue the people’s business and begins to seriously debate policies for reforming Social Security, it becomes crucial for these lawmakers to bring the AARP Policy Institute’s economic impact study findings into their discussions. Slashing benefit checks will hurt financially vulnerable seniors, but as shown by the findings of this recently released report it can also have a drastic impact on fragile state economies by slowing job growth, and reducing retail and other spending, even lowering tax revenues at the local, state and the federal levels.

For a copy of the report, go to http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-09-2013/social-security-impact-on-the-national-economy-AARP-ppi-econ-sec.html.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. His weekly commentaries can be found on his blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.