A Boost for Caregivers
The federal government is taking steps to recognize the tremendous contributions and hardships assumed by tens of thousands of family caregivers across the country. Federal dollars were released in February to the 50 states to fund the National Family Care Support Program, a new project being launched under the Older Americans Act. Iowa's share of the federal grant money comes to nearly $1.4 million this year.
During my four-year tenure as chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I led an effort to champion these silent heroes of our time and to breathe federal support into the lifeline they offer ailing family members each and every day.
Family caregivers often sacrifice personal, professional, and financial gain to care for an aging family member or ailing relative. To help make their jobs a little easier by building a nationwide network and go-to support system, I wrote the legislation creating the program and got it adopted last year. The family caregiver program is the largest new program authorized under the Older Americans Act since the widely popular nutrition programs for the elderly were adopted in 1972. Just as "Meals on Wheels" works so effectively to reach millions of elderly Americans, the National Family Care Support Program recognizes an equally pressing need exists for caregiver support services.
At the turn of the 21st century, life expectancy rates in the United States continue to climb. While the statistics for longevity in America bear good tidings for baby boomers and beyond, the fast-growing elderly population also has created challenges for family units, the nation's health delivery systems, and private and public sector services for older Americans. As "middle age"
turns into "old age," Americans understandably want to do whatever it takes to maintain their quality of life and stay independent for as long as possible. Washington ought to promote a system, like family caregiving, which helps people help themselves.
From a public policy position and an individual's perspective, it makes great sense. Keeping the elderly safely at home is far more affordable than an expensive admission into a long-term care facility. And keeping even a semi-autonomous lifestyle does wonders for the emotional, intellectual and physical well-being of the frail elderly and younger persons with special needs.
As more Americans live well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, a crop of devoted caregivers is stepping up to the plate to tend to their elderly loved ones. The federal government and society-at-large will benefit in the long run by recognizing these contributions and supporting family caregiving.
The National Family Caregiver Support program is administered by the Administration of Aging and facilitated between the states and local area agencies on aging. The program will feature information about services for those who provide and require care; assistance with access to services; individual counseling, organization of support groups, and caregiver training; respite
care; and other supplemental services. For more detailed information, Iowans should contact their local area agency on aging. The Administration on Aging also offers answers to the frequently asked questions at http://www.aoa.gov.
For the last quarter-century, I served on committees in Congress devoted to issues affecting the elderly and our aging American society. In this capacity, I have devoted considerable time and resources examining the demographic changes taking root in America's social structure and how public policy should address these emerging growing pains. As the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I will have the opportunity to shape public policy that affects the nation's retirement, health and pension systems. From this vantage point, I will work hard to see that our nation ages gracefully in the 21st century. Recognizing and supporting the contributions made by a growing legion of family caregivers is a good place to start.