Kupuna Caregivers program could get up to $4M
Lawmakers are considering $2 million to $4 million in legislative funding for the Kupuna Caregivers program to provide up to $70 a day in services for seniors in Hawaii.
The momentum for the program has grown from a year ago when legislators allotted just $600,000, estimated to help between 50 and 135 caregivers statewide.
The House Health & Human Services Committee approved Tuesday $2 million in House Bill 1912, while Senate Bill 2988 would provide double that amount. With $2 million, an estimated 300 caregivers could get help to cover the costs of adult day care, chore and homemaker services, home-delivered meals, personal and respite care, and transportation.
So far 1,170 people have called about the program, according to AARP Hawaii.
There are 154,000 unpaid family caregivers in the islands, many of whom are taking care of their aging parents, spouse or other relatives while struggling to stay in the workforce.
Irene Martin, a 30-yearold University of Hawaii master’s degree student who works part time as a nursing home social worker, juggles motherhood with two babies and caregiving for her parents, a duty she took on at 14 years old.
Her 62-year-old father is legally blind and also suffers from dementia, while her mother, 65, has multiple conditions including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scoliosis. Martin’s two daughters are 3 months and 21 months old.
“I try my best to put my personal emotions and needs secondary and put my parents and children first, so there’s a lot of caregiver stress. It’s not easy,” she said. “There’s a lot of times where it’s very emotional, it’s very frustrating. We just do it because it’s our family and there’s no other way. I couldn’t fathom putting my parents into a care facility. For me and my Latino heritage, that’s not an option for us.”
Cynthia Goto, a retired OB-GYN, is a 15-year caregiver for her 86-year-old mother and 96-year-old bedridden father who has been in and out of hospice for 2-1/2 years. The elderly couple’s matching hospital beds are in the same room overlooking a Japanese garden her father built.
“A lot of people, as they age, wish to age in place so the families try to help them. It’s nice that we’ve been able to keep them at home,” she said. “Our culture in Hawaii has always focused on the family and we’re just trying to do the best we can with the resources we have. A little help would go a long way.”
AARP Executive Director Barbara Kim Stanton said the Kupuna Caregivers bill is the first in the nation to help the working caregiver and is most beneficial for women. About 70 percent of caregivers have to make work accommodations and about 20 percent of them end up leaving the workforce, she said.
“Women caregivers in particular risk their financial future. This will help them not retire into poverty,” she said. “Now there is a safety net and as long as we get the funding, this will mean that our local family caregivers will have more security.”
Demand is growing along with the aging population.
“There is a lot of people who need this. When you’re looking at the longevity of women in Hawaii … 1 out of 5 eventually are forced to leave the workforce,” she said, adding that they could lose an estimated $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. “That’s why this kupuna caregiver bill and funding it sufficiently is really critical.”
Rep. Gregg Takayama
(D, Pearl City) said this issue eventually will affect everyone in Hawaii.
“It affects virtually every one of us. We can be assured that if you aren’t already a family caregiver for a kupuna, that you probably will one day be one. If you’re not already receiving care, one day you will,” he said. “We have the longest lifespan in Hawaii. That virtually ensures that caregiving will be a vital part of our state for many years to come.”
There’s a lot of times where it’s very emotional, it’s very frustrating. We just do it because it’s our family and there’s no other way. I couldn’t fathom putting my parents into a care facility.”
Irene Martin A student, part-time social worker and mother of two who also juggles caregiving for her aging parents