How Caregivers Can Collect Social Security Benefits and Reduce Work Hours

Daughter Helping Senior Mother To Use Walking Frame

Q. My mother had a stroke and really needs my help until we can find other arrangements. I’m afraid I’ll lose my job and wind up unemployed if I take time off work to care for her. Do you know if I have any rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

A. Millions of family members leave the workforce every year to take care of loved ones. They take months off of work, and some ultimately become full-time unpaid family caregivers, often exhausting their own savings to care for a family member. In many cases, for their self-sacrifice and devotion, they are sadly penalized by losing pay and Social Security benefits.

Before you quit your job, it is important to learn about your options as a caregiver and what is out there to help you get the support you need. In addition, there may be a way to avoid a big reduction in Social Security benefits when you retire because you took care of a loved one. Below are details on options for while you are still working, and if you need to quit to care for your mother full-time.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law, provides certain employees in all states unpaid leave to care for themselves, a sick family member (limited to a spouse, child, or parent), or a new child, without losing their jobs or health insurance.

Under the FMLA, employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. Employers must comply with the FMLA if they have at least 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year, and other requirements, as described here.

Since its inception, FMLA has been used more than 100 million times, helping 35 million people keep their jobs and health insurance while they cared for a family health crisis or a new baby. But FMLA still has a long way to go. Because FMLA leave is generally unpaid with eligibility and use restrictions, many who qualify for it can’t afford to take it; others suffer financially when they do, and millions more who’d like to benefit from it are excluded.

Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP)

Unfortunately, very few programs will pay family members or friends to provide care on a regular basis. However, sometimes caregiving families can obtain some relief for specific purposes, such as for respite care, to purchase goods and services that relate to their role as a caregiver, or for certain home health services.

The Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) is a federally-supported program under the Administration on Aging that provides services to help ease the financial burden of caregiving to a person 60 years and older.

According to the Administration on Aging, nationally, over 700,000 caregivers received services through the Family Caregiver Support Program. These services helped them better manage their caregiving responsibilities while ensuring their loved ones remained in the community for as long as possible.

Service highlights include the following:

•Access Assistance Services provided over 1 million contacts to caregivers helping them locate services from a variety of private and voluntary agencies.

•Counseling and Training Services were provided to over 125,000 caregivers with counseling, peer support groups, and training to help them better cope with the stresses of caregiving.

•Respite Care Services were provided to more than 64,000 caregivers with 6.8 million hours with temporary relief—at home, or in an adult day care or institutional setting—from their caregiving responsibilities.

This FCSP program is available through your local department on aging (in Fairfax County, Rappahanock area, Montgomery County, and DC). Services at these agencies include information and assistance; counseling and support groups; education and training; respite care to give you a break; and supplemental services, including the purchase of consumable supplies, emergency response systems and home modifications.

Social Security Caregiving Credit Act

The Social Security Caregiver Credit Act (H.R.3377) was introduced last July by Nita Lowey, a Congresswoman from NY, and is still pending in the House Ways and Means Committee. The purpose of this proposed Bill is to alleviate some of the financial burdens of people who face the unsettling prospect of trading off their retirement in order to care for a loved one. The bill would allow caregivers in this situation to collect Social Security benefits and reduce work hours, so they can spend more caring for loved ones.

Lowey describes her legislation as a measure that would provide a “modest” boost in future Social Security benefits for qualifying individuals, including those who:

•Spend more than 80 hours a month providing unpaid care to a dependent relative or chronically dependent individual.

•Earn no more than the average national wage (around $45,000 for an individual).

A spokesperson with Lowey’s office explained the credit varies on an income-based “sliding scale,” so someone who does not work would receive a credit of around $22,000 a year, while someone who earns $33,000 would receive a credit of about $5,500. If they worked part time as well as served as a caregiver, the amount credited would be reduced. While not a complete answer to the problem, the bill would be of great help to those at the lower end of the earnings scale. We will continue to keep you up-to-date with this bill’s progress and hope for the best.

Caregivers Can Get Compensated

Many caregivers struggle with heavy financial responsibilities, especially if they’ve had to quit their jobs or reduce their hours to provide care. Imagine that you could get compensated for driving your father to the doctor, helping him get dressed, and administering his medications. I am happy to say that in some places, and in some cases, you can. Please read our blog post, “Can Family Caregivers Get Compensated?” for ways your commitment to your mother can result in more money in your pocket — either from direct cash payments or federal income tax breaks.

Medicaid Planning in Virginia, Maryland, and DC

Medicaid planning can be started while you are still able to make legal and financial decisions, or can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care. In fact, the majority of our Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection clients come to us when nursing home care is already in place or is imminent.

If you believe your mother may need long-term care in the not so distant future and if you or your mother have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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