Caregiver Credit Idea Gets Praise

By Rachel Carta, The News-Item, Shamokin, Pa.

Jul. 25–Ten-year-old Matt Avellino came running into the kitchen at his grandmother’s Marion Heights home to give his 94-year-old great-great-grandmother a hug.

Matt, one of 21 great-great-grandchildren of Violet Feudale, said it’s great having his “Bushie” within walking distance of his home.

Feudale, who is legally blind, lives in the Marion Heights home of her granddaughter, Carol Wolfgang. Wolfgang, 58, said she has been caring for relatives in her home for many years, and was happy to have her grandmother move in.

Though such care is second nature for her, Wolfgang said there is obviously a noticeable extra expense. With that, she was pleased to hear last week about a proposed tax credit for caregivers.

With 80 percent of long-term care coming from caregivers, and the fact that people are living longer in retirement, U.S. Rep. Christopher Carney, D-10, along with fellow Pennsylvania Congressman Todd Platts, R-19, have introduced the Bipartisan Caregiver Tax Relief Act of 2008.

The bill, which is awaiting action in committee, calls for a $2,500 tax credit for anyone providing long-term care. The full credit would be available to individuals making up to $75,000, and to couples with a combined $150,000 income. The credit would fall by $100 for every $1,000 over those income caps.

“The way we take care of our seniors tells a lot about us as a community,” Carney said in a statement announcing the bill.

Today, a lot of families are taking on that responsibility, he said, and the relief act would provide assistance to seniors and their families to make it easier for these families to stay together.

“This means helping a working mother who also cares for her elderly father, or making it easier for families to chip in and pay for long-term care,” Carney said in his announcement.

‘Long time coming’

A study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2000 found that more than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year.

In 2005, 71 percent of adults had at least one parent living with them. In addition, the fastest-growing segment of people are those over age 85.

“I think it is a long time coming,” said Pat Rumberger, director of the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging, about help for in-home caregivers. “There are a lot of people in this county and across the country that have been taking care of family members for a long time. They have quit their jobs and are not getting anything in return.”

Rumberger said the proposed tax credit would be a way for caregivers to get something for their service.

Pat Rosini, the agency’s deputy director, said the tax credit will help all taxpayers in the long run because it keeps aging people out of nursing homes.

“With the baby boomers coming in, anything that the government can do to keep them out of the nursing homes is an advantage,” she said.

$306 billion for ‘free’

According to www.familycaregiver.org, the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free” is estimated to be $306 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as the $158 million spent on home care and nursing home services combined.

“If we are not getting additional funding, it just hurts the people,” Rumberger said. “The caregiver tax is at least something. They really have to give up a lot to take care of their loved ones.”

Surrounded by family

When Wolfgang’s grandmother was faced with the choice between a nursing home or living with a relative, it was an easy decision. At the Wolfgang home, she has her own room, prepared meals, freedom to come and go and her dog. Also, most importantly, she is surrounded by her family.

“It is just easier to sit and be able to talk with her,” Wolfgang said of having her grandmother close.

Wolfgang, who is the oldest of Feudale’s grandchildren, said she was happy to offer her home to her grandmother because it provided peace of mind for the entire family. When Feudale was living at her home and did not answer the phone, relatives would immediately worry and travel to check on her.

Also, Wolfgang said she believes an aging relative can live longer in the loving home of a relative as opposed to an assisted-living facility or a nursing home.

“They will just have a better outlook on life,” she said.

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