Jun 302014

Closing the Care Gap for Families in the 21st Century

In early July, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will introduce a novel policy proposal that could be life changing for the millions of Americans who quietly worry and wonder who they can call on for help and steady companionship when a loved one becomes ill, disabled, or very old.

The Caregiver Corps Act of 2014 is designed to train and organize volunteers of all ages in communities across the country. It would charter local Caregiver Corps to harness the power and passion of volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors and community members. Corps members would provide companionship, as well as nonmedical assistance, such as delivering food or making a minor repair. They can also offer homebound people a way to connect with the larger world.

To ensure consistency and to provide guidance and support for local programs, the bill establishes a national Caregiver Corps program to support local initiatives. It will develop a core training and operational toolkit for communities to use, helping them avoid or solve problems as they launch. Local Corps would then form or existing organizations would qualify and affiliate. Corps could be sponsored by private- or public-sector organizations or perhaps by a community coalition.

Requirements for local Corps would be simple and straightforward. They would

  • Conduct screening and criminal history background checks of volunteers;
  • Provide in-person orientation and core training, along with any supplemental training a community might wish to offer;
  • Administer a system to match volunteers with adults in the community and a system for tracking outcomes of volunteer assistance; and
  • Establish ways to appropriately recognize volunteers, time, and commitment through mechanisms such as time banking, modest stipends, tuition credits, discounts, or debt forgiveness.

The need to create Caregiver Corps programs in communities across the country has never been clearer. The shrinking pool of family caregivers and the economic realities of working families mean that elders will have fewer people on whom to rely. At the same time, the demand for home and community-based services will escalate, but it is not clear that the workforce of personal and home care aides — whose salaries and benefits are low, and whose prospects for advancement are poor — will grow rapidly enough to meet the need for in-home assistance.

Most aged people will, at some point, need the assistance of working-age adults who are willing to help a neighbor to do the small tasks that are essential to living in the community and to alleviate the loneliness of living with disabilities in old age.

Local Caregiver Corps could fill the looming care gap, supplementing the work of family caregivers, and providing the kinds of nonmedical quality-of-life supports that personal and home care aides generally cannot perform. These could range from helping an elder navigate computers and learn other supportive technologies, to accompanying an individual to a cultural outing, to sharing knowledge about topics and activities of mutual interest. They could provide a break for family caregivers or help with mowing the lawn or replacing a light bulb. While volunteers would offer enthusiasm, compassion, and insight, they would also learn essential skills for improving day-to-day life for older adults and their families, both by interacting with these individuals and by supporting programs that serve them.

As we embark on our collective age wave journey, we have no shared cultural experience of living with so many old people all at one time. Transforming personal experience into volunteer experience at the community level in a way that serves a collective good is central to forging a future that we can all live with happily and comfortably. Finding ways to engage and support people of all generations who have the skills, resources, and motivation to help is in everyone’s self-interest. The challenge before us is how we can accomplish this goal, and the Caregiver Corps Act of 2014 is an important part of the answer.

As soon as the bill is introduced or the Senator’s office posts the summary or the bill, we will put a link here. Make a note to check back in a few days! Sen. Casey announced the bill at a Senate Special Committee field hearing in Pittsburgh on June 30, 2014. Titled “Sandwich Generation Squeeze: Confronting the Middle-Class Struggle to Raise Kids, Care for Aging Parents, and Scrape Together Enough for Retirement in Today’s Economy,” the hearing was held from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Want to learn more?

Sen. Casey press release on the Caregiver Corps concept:

U. S. Senator Robert P. Casey (D-PA):

Keywords: Caregiver Corps, Senator Casey, Caregiver Corps Act of 2014, caregivers, volunteers, family caregiving

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  5 Responses to “The Caregiver Corps Act of 2014”

  1. Historic. Thank you Senator Casey for your leadership on this critical issue.

  2. This piece of legislation is a good start to relieving the load for family caregivers, but we also need an aggressive attack on the financial burdens. The value of unpaid caregivers’ work exceeds the combined spending of Medicare and Medicaid for eldercare in many care settings, but not only are these warriors unpaid, their personal finances also suffer. The average caregiver pays for medications, transportation, hired caregivers, and other resources out of pocket without even a tax deduction. They lose time from work, and suffer what eldercare professionals call “presenteeism:” their bodies are at their work stations, but their minds are at home with Mom. I have not seen the data on the impact on performance evaluations, promotions, and lifetime income, but I do know many caregivers retire early. Since 60% of caregivers are women who earn less than men and spend less time in the workforce, their senior years are at risk of poverty because of paltry pensions.

    I thought we passed legislation in the 1990s allowing states to use Medicaid funds to care for eligible clients at home ( at a considerably lower cost than nursing homes.) What happened to that idea? My mother’s functional status did not require nursing home care, but the effect of dementia on her memory and judgment impossible to leave her alone at all ( she set my kitchen on fire minutes after I had walked upstairs.) Working 60+ hours per week on a medical school faculty, with two children under age 5, I needed almost 24 hour care at home. If Medicaid had been able to supplement my resources, I could have kept Mother at home longer and saved the program quite a bit of money.

    I agree that trained volunteers will provide much needed respite, but we must also address the financial issue.


  3. Thank you Senator Casey!

  4. Why not start with recognizing, training and giving benefits to unpaid family members? This is just dumb – family will still continue to carry the lion’s share of the caregiving load in this country.

  5. This seems like a good idea in general, but current estimates are that it has very little chance of passing (based on GovTrack.us). I’m not sure why the odds are so low. But, it is the part of an important conversation that should involve a lot of stakeholders. It would seem that a combination of foundations could begin funding local pilots that demonstrate how care-givers can be supported to ease their burdens while enabling them to still play a primary role in helping their parents or other seniors that they care about. It would seem that it makes more sense to find ways to support people who deeply care and are willing to invest their own time (as they should), rather than turn to low-paid workers who may be primarily interested in a paycheck. We need to actively explore innovations to address the aging population in ways that are compassionate and efficient.

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