Is the FAMILY Act the Answer to the Caregiving Crisis?

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Joan Lunden, former host of Good Morning America and spokesperson for A Place for Mom is more than just an actress, journalist, and TV personality. She is an activist for reform for caregivers, who recently spoke in front of Congress at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing. She expressed how she believes “(w)e are in the middle of a caregiving crisis” and was vocal in her support of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.

Lunden’s Own Experience Makes Her a Strong Proponent for Caregiver Reform

Lunden, 69, recently noted how she was a caregiver for her 87-year-old mother, Gladyce, and her ailing brother, Jeff, and seven children of her own. While her brother suffered symptoms of diabetes, such as blurred vision, headaches, and operations on hands and feet, Gladyce showed signs of dementia and had several mini strokes over the years. For both their safety and Joan’s peace of mind, she’d bought them a condominium in the Sacramento, California area, where they lived together.

Joan lived across the country from her mother and brother on the East Coast, where she was raising two sets of twins under the age of 10 with her second husband and three older daughters from her first marriage. At the same time, she never truly slowed down since leaving “Good Morning America” in 1997, traveling the country as a spokesperson on healthy living, authoring several books, and managing a growing business focused on healthy living. Joan was both a Sandwich Generation caregiver – caring for children and a parent simultaneously and, sandwiched between caregiving duties – and a long-distance caregiver.

Joan’s brother died at the early age of 57 and her mother’s condition was getting worse, as dementia always does. Gladyce had Sundown Syndrome and suffered from delusions and fear. After Gladyce suffered several falls, breaking her foot, her rib, then hitting her head and needing staples, Joan realized that care in a skilled nursing care facility would be necessary, and in retrospect, Joan wished she did more planning for this inevitable transition. Gladyce died a couple of years later.

Joan’s experience as a long-distance caregiver taught her about the need for planning in advance and the need for “a safety net to prevent family caregivers from falling into poverty or bankruptcy.” This is why she is such a strong proponent of the FAMILY Act and for planning in advance.

Caregiver’s Need More Flexibility at Work to See to their Caregiving Duties

More than eight million caregivers care for a loved one long-distance, whether they are a few hours away or across the country as in Joan’s case. This makes caregiving a lot more difficult, as you are not there every day to see the small things that can be warning signs that something is changing and your loved one needs more care.

The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of partial paid leave to address a serious personal or family health issue (such as caring for a sick loved one), for the care of a newborn or newly adopted child, or for circumstances arising from a loved one’s military deployment or serious injury.

What the FAMILY Act Would Do

The FAMILY Act would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance fund that nearly every working person would be able to access. It would:

  • Provide workers 12 weeks of partially paid time off, as described above. Workers would receive up to 66% of their monthly wages (up to a capped amount of $4,000 per month) to ensure that low- and middle-wage workers have a higher share of their wages replaced.
  • Apply to virtually all working people across the United States, regardless of their job or where they live. Younger, part-time, lower-wage, contingent, and self-employed workers would all be eligible for benefits.
  • Be funded responsibly and sustainably, without harming other critical government programs. Employers and employees would make small payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1% each (two cents per $10 in wages), or less than $2.00 per week for a typical worker. The payroll deductions would go into a dedicated fund administered by a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave that would then disburse the benefits when workers need them.
  • With a dedicated funding stream, Congress won’t be able to pit funding for paid leave against other critical programs. Furthermore, the social insurance model allows small businesses that can’t provide paid leave on their own to have access to the same benefits as big businesses, and compete for the same talent.

“Families everywhere are counting on this kind of comprehensive paid leave program in the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act that will help us all when we need it most,” Lunden said.

The Current State of the FAMILY Act in Congress

Ways and Means Chairman Massachusetts Democratic Representative Richard Neal lauded the legislation for offering all workers replacement paid leave so they can pay their bills and balance work and family.

An original sponsor, Connecticut Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro claimed it has 203 House and 34 Senate sponsors along with the support of close to 100 businesses or business leaders.

At the same time, the committee’s lead Republican, Texas Representative Kevin Brady, blasted it as “just another outrageous tax hike American workers can’t afford.” He believes the focus on paid family leave should be on small and medium-size businesses and low-paid workers.

Ways and Means Chairman Neal said he doesn’t see any insurmountable obstacles to come with an agreement for funding between the two sides.

Joan Lunden’s Advice to Caregivers

Joan’s advice to all caregivers, current and future, is to take a page from her long-running morning show career. “Have the conversation, start the dialogue, do the interview with your loved one,” she says. “And, most importantly, don’t stop communicating – talk to your loved one as often as possible, talk to their doctor, ask questions, talk to the facility administrators and health care professionals – stay on it. It is the most important tool you have – it keeps you connected to your loved one and to the essential care needs they have.” Joan says she is healthier today than she has ever been in her life and that her caregiving experience has given her new insights into the message of “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Are You a Caregiver for a Loved One?

If you are a caregiver for a loved one, you should heed Joan Lunden’s advice and plan in advance. Nursing homes in the Metro DC area cost $12,000-$14,000 a month, which can be catastrophic for most families. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 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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