Obviously, there are a lot of serious issues facing our nation this election season. As we head into the heat of the Presidential race, we thought it would interesting to look at what the candidates are saying about one issue that is important to us - family caregiving. Turns out, it’s a not a hot topic for them.
You may be thinking- there are more pressing issues such as national security at the forefront of the discussions, so why do we care about this issue? As we’ve stated before, family caregiving may affect all of us at some point, making it a topic of importance for employers and politicians. According to the AARP Executive Summary of Caregiving, there are about 43.5 million unpaid caregivers in America and the majority (85%) provide care to a family member. They report emotional and financial strain. Among the employed caregivers (not self-employed), only about half report flexible work hours or paid sick days to help with their caregiving responsibilities. Many caregivers are overwhelmed and some have to leave work in order to care for a family member. The burden of caregiving can be tremendous to the person involved, but can eventually affect the workforce. Politicians can help by adding more resources and tax breaks to help them in their time of crisis. We wanted to learn more about where the candidates stand, so we did some digging and found a few articles to help us.
Although there is a growing need, with an increasing gap in the ratio of potential family caregivers for our aging population, this Washington Post article from a year ago found that most presidential candidates in the primary season were silent on the topic, with the exception of Hillary Clinton who has called for more support for family caregivers.
More recently, in the first few minutes of the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26, as the debate transcript shows, Clinton stated: "I want us to do more to support people who are struggling to balance family and work. I’ve heard from so many of you about the difficult choices you face and the stresses that you’re under. So let’s have paid family leave, earned sick days. Let’s be sure we have affordable child care and debt-free college.” While not exactly focused on family caregivers, at least she recognizes the struggle. Trump mentioned child care once but did not address the topic.
On September 13, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report, Families Caring for an Aging America, that outlines challenges family caregivers currently face and makes recommendations for is needed in the future. As summarized by Next Avenue in this Forbes article, the report calls on the next president’s administration to “take steps to address the health, economic and social issues facing family caregivers of older Americans.” It also urges the federal government to create a National Family Caregiver Strategy recognizing the vital role family caregivers play in the health of older Americans.
As another Forbes article explains, Hillary Clinton has more detailed plans that would affect family caregivers: “Clinton said she would work to increase Social Security benefits for people who take time off from paying jobs for family caregiving duties. She also advocates a new tax break for individuals caring for aging parents or grandparents (though not spouses). In addition, Clinton favors greatly increasing the amount the federal government spends on its Lifespan Respite Care program, which provides money to states to give family caregivers a temporary break.” These plans are indeed listed at the bottom of this page from her campaign website.
There has been recent focus and discussion of paid family leave policies by both candidates, which is related but not quite the same as addressing the needs of family caregivers. Clinton’s plan is to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, with at least two-thirds of current wages funded by tax reforms. The definition of “family member” is not clear, but is unlikely to include siblings, similar to existing law under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Trump’s proposal is even more restrictive with just six weeks of paid leave for mothers only and newborn child care only using existing unemployment insurance programs when employers do not provide the benefit. This article fact checks candidate’s statements on these topics, and summarizes their family leave proposals in the following chart.
Although it has not been a focus this election season so far, we are hopeful that the current conversation about paid family leave policies can be expanded to consider the broader needs of family caregivers, including paid leave and flexible work arrangements as well as other types of support and training. We also believe that the definition of family caregiver should be expanded to include siblings and others who provide unpaid care to family and friends. Otherwise, unfortunately, even if improved policies for paid leave or other support are implemented for the "typical caregiver", there are many of us that will be left in the same position and excluded from coverage under FMLA or similar laws. Two more presidential debates are coming up on October 9 and October 19, so we'll be watching to see if the candidates share any more details about their plans to support family caregivers.