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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GAO Report Reveals Social Security Benefits Gap between Rich, Poor

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 1, 2016

We intuitively know that there is a growing income gap between America’s rich and poor. We heard it for months during the presidential democratic debates. But a newly released GAO report documents this charge, the disparities and their impact on Social Security Benefits.

Growing disparities in life expectancy between America’s rich and poor is eroding the progressive nature of Social Security. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Shorter Life Expectancy Reduces Projected Lifetime Benefits for Lower Income,” requested by Senator Bernie Sanders, shows that low-income American men (making about $20,000 a year) will lose 11 percent to 14 percent of their lifetime Social Security benefits while high-income men (making $80,000 annually) will see a 16 percent to 18 percent benefit boost due to this growing gap.

Life Expectancy Impacts SSA Benefits

The GAO study, released on April 4, 2016, found that raising the Social Security retirement age would result in even fewer benefits for lower-income groups. Lower-income men are living between 4 and 13 fewer years than higher-income men, and lower-income women are living between 2 and 14 fewer years than higher-income women.

“Poverty should not be a death sentence,” said Sanders, who serves as ranking member on the Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee. “When over half of older workers have no retirement savings, we need to expand, not cut, Social Security so that every American can retire with the benefits they’ve earned and the dignity they deserve,” he says.

According to 64 page GAO report, the wealthiest Americans are not only living longer and collecting more in Social Security benefits, they are also contributing less of their income toward Social Security. Almost all of the income gains over the past three decades have gone to those earning above the $118,500 earnings cap and have therefore been exempt from Social Security taxes, costing the Social Security Trust Fund over $1.1 trillion, says the report.

“Today, the wealthiest Americans contribute less to Social Security than at any other time in recent history. We must reject calls to raise the retirement age and instead strengthen Social Security by ensuring millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share,” Sanders said.

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), says that the GAO report is especially important when you consider the push in Congress to raise Social Security’s retirement age to reduce benefits. “Forcing average Americans to delay retirement until 70, as suggested by some in Washington, would mean even smaller benefits for lower-income groups,” he says.

Richtman notes that NCPSSM has long opposed increasing the Social Security retirement age, stating that it is “nothing but a cruel cut in benefits” The GAO report shows exactly how cruel it would be, he says.

Instead of cutting Social Security, Richtman calls on Congress to boost benefits so that retirement income program can continue to fulfill its promise providing an adequate base of income for America’s seniors.

Lawmakers Push to Protect Social Security

Sanders, a presidential Democratic candidate, has introduced legislation that would ensure that Social Security would be able to pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 58 years. His plan would increase benefits by more than $1,300 a year for seniors with less than $16,000 in annual income. This includes boosting yearly cost-of-living adjustments by making the consumer price index better reflect seniors’ rising costs for health care and prescription medicine.

To shore up the retirement program’s trust fund, the Senator would lift the cap on taxable income so everyone who makes more than $250,000 a year would pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as middle-class working families.

“This report reinforces the importance of strengthening Social Security and preserving the guarantee of Medicare, especially for working and middle class Rhode Islanders,” said Congressman Cicilline (D-RI), who is a co-sponsor of the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act. “After a lifetime of hard work, Rhode Islanders should be able to retire with economic security and peace of mind, he says, pledging to continue his efforts to support “commonsense” legislation that strengthen Social Security benefits.

The GAO study is a warning that proposals to raise the retirement age “would fall hardest on those who can least afford it,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As a founding member of the Defending Social Security Caucus, Whitehouse plans to explore ways to strengthen the Social Security, “the bedrock of American retirement security.”

GAO made no recommendations in this report. However, in comments the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with GAO’s finding that it is important to understand how the life expectancy in different income groups may affect retirement income. The federal agency sees financial literacy as a key factor in preparing for a “secured retirement.”

According to a SSA official, “Social Security offers one of the best tools for the public to plan for their retirement and educate themselves about their benefits – a my Social Security account which is a secure, personalized online account that can be created at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. With a my Social Security account, people can check their Social Security Statement to learn about future Social Security benefits, verify annual earnings, and plan for their financial future. More than 23 million people have already created secure, convenient accounts,” he says.

In recent years Congress has looked for ways to keep the Social Security program afloat by adjusting Social Security tax contributions, increasing retirement age, and reducing benefit amounts. Now with the release of the new report findings, the message is clear. Congress must not tinker with Social Security until it understands the unanticipated impact on those receiving the benefit checks, especially on the lower-income retirees.

For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or jeszeckc@gao.gov.

Art Can Jump Start the State’s Sagging Economy

Published in the Pawtucket Times, February 22, 2013

Rhode Island may be known as the nation’s littlest State. But if Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox have their way, the Ocean State may be called the “State of the Arts.”

Even with the occurrence of a massive blizzard just two days before the February 11th Art Charrette, 110 art supporters (including 10 Senators), from government, the business community, academia and the nonprofit sector, did not let huge snow piles in some spots up to two feet high keep them off the streets. They traveled to Fidelity Investments headquarters in Smithfield to tell top State elected officials how art and creativity can rev up Rhode Island’s sputtering economic engine.

Fidelity Investment’s 500-acre campus off Route 7 features three buildings, including a 577,000-square-foot office building. It was the perfect place to talk seriously about art. Carol Warner, who has served as Fidelity’s Art Curator for more than 30 years, says her company has purchased over 1,200 pieces of art from 433 Rhode Island artists. The collection is showcased throughout the campus and is installed on the surrounding grounds. Warner enthused that the art “both enhances the work space and invigorates its employees,” in her comments to the gathered legislative and arts and cultural leadership attendees.

During her opening remarks Warner noted that Fidelity Investments supports local artists in Rhode Island and wherever they have a presence at nine regional campuses and 180 investment centers throughout the nation.

The Political Stars Align for Arts

Chafee, whose demonstration program put murals on four visible highway retaining walls and abutments along Interstate 95, noted that staggering statistics “underscore the plain fact that the arts are clearly one of Rhode Island’s premier [economic] assets.” He cited a New England Foundation for the Arts study, published last fall that found that 2009 direct and indirect spending by the non-profit arts sector totaled $673 million and supported nearly 8,000 jobs.

According to the Governor, just last year, a Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts study found over 12,000 Rhode Island jobs were created in both the State’s private and nonprofit art sectors. The economic impact in Providence alone was greater than that of Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota and New Hampshire…states with larger populations, he said.

“The arts and culture are also deeply intertwined with our state’s appeal as a tourism destination. They make Rhode Island a place where people want to spend time and – quite frankly – spend money,” added Chafee, whose proposed 2014 budget provides additional funding for the State’s Tourism Division.

“Rhode Island’s creative sector encompasses over 3,248 arts-related businesses and jobs that employ more than 13,000 individuals,” stated Paiva Weed, who spear headed the efforts to organize this idea gathering session. “Despite the lingering effects of the recession on most sectors of the economy, the creative sector in Rhode Island added 770 jobs and enjoyed a 16 percent growth between 2011 and 2012.”

Fox acknowledged the fact that Rhode Island needs to play to its strength in the arts, an observation that he garnered from a speaker at a recently held economic development workshop at Rhode Island College.

Don’t expect the final report generated from the Art Charrette to sit on a State bureaucrat’s dusty shelf. Fox, whose chamber initially hammers out the State’s budget, asserted that he will work closely with the Senate and Governor to review the final suggestions to ensure that arts are a key component of Rhode Island’s state’s economic turnaround.

For Executive Director Randy Rosenbaum, who has led the State’s Council for the Arts for 18 years, the gathering was a “pinch me” moment. For years his mantra has been “the arts are important for the economic vitality of Rhode Island.” With Chafee’s opening affirmation that Paiva Weed and Fox are “unified” in their belief that the arts are key to economic growth in Rhode Island, the State’s Arts Czar saw all the planets in alignment for bringing his “arts and economic vitality” mantra closer to a political reality.

RISD President John Maeda came bringing his greetings, too. Maeda, a designer, computer scientist, academic and author, took the opportunity to announce the February 14th, launching of STEM to STEAM, a new RISD-led initiative to add Art and Design to the national agenda of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Co-chaired by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), the bipartisan caucus focuses on furthering the incorporation of art and design into STEM education for American students. The new Congressional Caucus also includes Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Jim Langevin (D-RI).

Neil Steinberg, President of Rhode Island Foundation, views arts as a “twofer” with the jobs that the sector creates and the quality of life for the people who come here and for those who stay. He notes that his group, one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation and the only community foundation serving the Ocean State, is committed to building the arts sector,

Break Out Session Generates Ideas

With the larger group split into three discussion groups, more than 85 suggestions were compiled by the Art Charrette organizers.

One suggestion was to create a branding campaign to establish an art identity for Rhode Island. It was recommended that state policy makers make the most of the State’s small size and high density of artists and art groups. Visual branding of arts districts along with art trails with eating establishments would promote incredible art work and great restaurants.

It was noted that the State is already known as a design State. Given the presence of RISD and other education institutions, Rhode Island is in a position to become a leader in the nation’s design community. The State might easily become a workshop for the arts and industry.

Strategically use the State’s marketing budget for arts branding and to promote the tax free purchase of one-of-a-kind art in the certified Arts Districts throughout the Ocean State.

It was suggested that all municipalities incorporate the arts in their Economic Development Comprehensive Plan. All Cities and Towns should have an arts advocate who specifically serves as the person responsible for economic development activities.

Use the State’s taxing and bonding authority to advance the arts in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has nine legislatively created arts districts. Expand this tax policy to every city and town.

Also, better data must be collected. One recommendation called for the compiling of the true economic impact that includes not just data from restaurants, but from hotels, parking, art and entertainment activities, too.

Next Steps…

For this columnist: For more than 14 years I have seen the arts revitalize Pawtucket’s stagnant economy, bringing new life to its mills and tax dollars into the City’s coffers. Yes, redeveloped mills increase property values that bring in more property tax dollars to run a cash strapped city.

It is clear from last week’s Arts Charrette, the state’s political leadership now see the arts as a key sector in bringing dollars to the State’s coffers by attracting more tourists and convention business. Leadership must now sift through the dozens of suggestions and craft a comprehensive arts policy to be funded in Rhode Island’s 2014 Budget. If lawmakers walk their talk, Rhode Island truly will become the nation’s Art State, where artists make a living with their creative talents and Rhode Island becomes the newly emerging renaissance State.

For a detailing of Art Charrette suggestions, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMx45FXkVEs&list=UUMCPC8hUqIQQeq107tm5VAQ

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He promotes the arts by serving as Pawtucket’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer.