AARP launches campaign to support Family Caregivers

Published in RINewsToday on July 5, 2021

With caregiving costs skyrocketing, and with caregivers now estimated to be spending $7,242 annually out-of-pocket, AARP launches a national campaign to push for passage of the Credit for Caring Act.

The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group has endorsed the bipartisan legislative proposal that would provide up to a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers. The caregiver bill was introduced on May 18th  in the Senate by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and in the House by Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA).

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 study, there are an estimated 48 million Americans who provide care to either an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months. The study showed an increase of about 8 million caregivers from 2015 to 2020, indicating a significant growth in the nation’s caregivers’ population.

A 2019 AARP Public Policy Institute report noted that family caregivers in the United States provide $470 billion in uncompensated care.

Calling for Congressional Action to Assist Caregivers

AARP’s national campaign, urging passage of the Credit for Caring Act and more support for family caregivers, involves significant grassroots advocacy, including at least 60 tele-town halls, a major digital and video advertising initiative, and social media outreach through AARP’s national and state offices. Already, more than 100,000 contacts have been made with Members. In addition, more than 110 organizations, including 36 military and veterans service and support organizations, have joined AARP in asking Congress to pass the act. 

“This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices our 48 million family caregivers face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking from a lack of support,” said Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive vice president and Chief Advocacy Officer in a June 29th statement announcing the kick-off of its new national grassroots campaign and also the release of its newest caregiver study, “AARP’s Caregiving Out- of-Pocket Costs Study.”

Adds AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor: “This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices the 136,000 family caregivers in Rhode Island face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking,” 

“AARP research shows family caregivers contribute 114 million hours each year in their vital roles, “Taylor noted.

“We hear from so many caregivers from across the state who struggle financially,” Taylor added. “It is heartbreaking to know that cost, along with stress, fatigue and other factors take their toll over time. The need for support is more than evident.”

The Cost of Caregiving

Last month, AARP released its caregiver study, putting a spotlight on the out-of-pocket costs of caregiving, taking a close look at the financial strains on family caregivers and financial sacrifices (uncompensated care) they make in providing assistance to their loved ones. The study is a five year follow up to the landmark 2016 out-of- pocket caregiving study.

According to newly released study, nearly 8 in 10 of those caring for an adult family member (78%) are facing regular out-of-pocket costs, with the highest burden falling on younger caregivers and those who are Hispanic/Latino or African American. AARP researchers tracked what caregivers pay for using their own money and found average annual spending totaled $7,242 and, on average, 26% of the caregiver’s income. Housing expenses like rent or mortgage payments, home modifications, and assisted living made up more than half of caregivers’ spending, followed by medical expenses at 17%.

Out-of-pocket spending is much greater for some groups of caregivers, either in total dollars spent or as a percentage of average household income.

The researchers say that working caregivers who reported two work-related strains from caregiving, such as taking time off or working more hours, spend $10,525 each year on average – twice as much as caregivers who report one or no work-related strains.

AARP’s caregiver study also examined how caregiving financially impact between different generations of caregivers. Gen X caregivers spent the most money at $8,502. However, Gen Z and Millennial caregivers reported the greatest financial strain (spending on average $7,462 per year), spending a larger share of their household income. These caregivers have less time in the workforce to build financial security.

The AARP study found that Hispanic/Latino and African American caregivers also reported greater financial strain than White or Asian American caregivers. Hispanic/Latino caregivers spent on average, 47% of their household income on caregiving, and expenses for African American caregivers totaled, on average, 34% of income.

Researchers also found that caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia or mental health issues tend to spend more ($8,978 per year and $8,384 per year, respectively) than those caring for someone without those conditions.

Work-related or personal strain as a result of caregiving can impact the caregiver’s long term financial security, too, say the researchers.  Nearly 47% of caregivers have experienced at least one setback as a result of being a caregiver. These setbacks include dipping into personal savings, cutting back on their own spending, and reducing how much they save for their retirement years.

More than 53% have experienced at least one work-related impact as the result of caregiving. Taking time off (both paid or unpaid) and working different hours are ways that caregiving impacts work. 

In addition to direct out-of-pocket spending, caregivers are also experiencing indirect financial setbacks. Nearly half of family caregivers (47%) experienced at least one financial setback such as having to cut back on their own health care spending, dip into their personal savings or reduce how much they save for their retirement.

Send your letters to Congress urging passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act.  With an aging society and the number of caregivers increasing, a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers might just help to pay the mounting costs of caregiving expenses. 

For more details about AARP’s caregiver study, go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/ltc/2021/family-caregivers-cost-survey-2021.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00473.001.pdf.

More resources for family caregivers, including a free financial workbook, are available at aarp.org/caregiving.

Report: Congress Warned to Shore Up Social Security Reserves

Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 26, 2020

Each year, starting in 1941, the Social Security Board of Trustees has presented a required report on the financial status of the program to the Congress. Now amidst the world-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forcing the shuttering of the nation’s businesses triggering the worst economic downslide since the 1930s Great Depression, the Social Security Board of Trustees releases its 276-page 2020 annual with a warning that Social Security could deplete its trust funds reserves by 2035, if Congress does not act to increase the trust fund reserves. However, because of payroll taxes, revenue to the program would ensure that at least 79 percent of benefits would be paid after 2035 if Congress fails to address solvency.

During the last five weeks, about 24 million Americans have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 Pandemic. With fewer people paying payroll taxes, this will further reduce revenue to Social Security, the impact depending upon how length and severity of the economic downturn. During the pandemic, the number of Americans who pass away, become disabled or survivors will also affect the actuarial accounting of the trust fund’s finances.

“The projections in this year’s report do not reflect the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Social Security program. Given the uncertainty associated with these impacts, the Trustees believe it is not possible to adjust estimates accurately at this time,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “The duration and severity of the pandemic will affect the estimates presented in this year’s report and the financial status of the program, particularly in the short term.” says Saul.

“Today’s report confirms that Social Security’s financing is strong in the near term, but it will not have enough to pay 100 percent of promised benefits in long term. The report underscores why it is so important that Congress take action now to prevent a 21 percent cut from occurring in 2035, by ensuring Social Security is fully funded and strengthened for today’s seniors and future generations, who will need it even more,” said Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee in a statement.

“As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Security’s role is even more important than ever. During this volatile time of economic uncertainty, Social Security remains the one constant that all current and future beneficiaries can count on. It has never missed a payment. That’s why we must act now to expand and enhance Social Security with the Social Security 2100 Act,” states Larson. “His legislation will ensure Social Security remains solvent for the next 75 plus years, while expanding benefits. Moreover, the expansion of Social Security’s steady monthly payments would be an automatic boost to the economy,” he adds.

Gauging the Financial Health of Social Security

According to the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), at the end of 2019, about 64 million people were receiving benefits: 48.2 million retired workers and their dependents; 6 million survivors of deceased workers; and 9.9 million disabled workers and their dependents. About 178 million workers had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes in 2019.

By 2035, (which is the same as last year’s estimate) when today’s 51-year-olds reach the retirement age and today’s youngest retirees turn 78, retirees will face a 21-percent across-the board benefits cut (that could grow to 25 percent over time) if Congress does not make significant changes to revenue, benefits, or both to shore up the depleted trust fund.

This year’s report announces that Social Security has an accumulated surplus of approximately $2.9 trillion. It projects that, even if Congress took no action whatsoever, Social Security not only can pay all benefits and associated administrative costs until 2035, it is 91 percent funded for the next quarter century, 85 percent for the next half century, and 82 percent for the next three quarters of a century. At the end of the century, in 2095, Social Security is projected to cost just 5.86 percent of gross domestic product.

The newly released Trustees report notes that the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund, which pays disability benefits, will be able to pay scheduled benefits until 2065, 13 years later than in last year’s report. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing tax income will be sufficient to pay 92 percent of scheduled benefits.

As to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, which pays Medicare Part A inpatient hospital expenses, the Trustee’s report says that this program will be able to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, the same as reported last year. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing total program income will be sufficient to pay 90 percent of total scheduled benefits.

Finally, the Trustee’s report noted that the Supplemental Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund, consisting of Part B, which pays for physician and outpatient services, and Part D, which covers prescription drug benefits, is adequately financed into the indefinite future because current law provides financing from general revenues and beneficiary premiums each year to meet the next year’s expected costs. Due to these funding provisions, the rapid growth of SMI costs will place steadily increasing demands on both taxpayers and beneficiaries, says the Trustee’s report.

Social Security Advocates Weigh in

“Medicare and Social Security are more crucial than ever as Americans face the one-two punch of the coronavirus’s health and economic consequences, says AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins in a statement following the release of the Trustees report, noting that the security provided by Social Security’s guaranteed benefits and Medicare’s health coverage is indispensable.

“Today’s reports show that both programs remain strong. However, it is crucial for Congress to come together in a bipartisan way to address the long-term funding challenges to ensure individuals will get the benefits they have earned. One way to protect Medicare is to lower the cost of health care and prescription drug prices, suggests Jenkins.

“Social Security is strong. But its long-term fiscal health cannot be guaranteed if the White House and Congress continue to use the program’s financing structure for economic stimulus during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s President and CEO. “Those who would like to dismantle Social Security are using the pandemic to launch a stealth attack. A broad-based payroll tax cut, as the President has proposed, would interfere with Social Security’s traditional revenue stream while failing to deliver effective or equitable stimulus,” he warns.

According to Richtman, Social Security already provides more than $1.6 trillion in annual economic stimulus as seniors spend their benefits for essential goods and services in their communities. “Now is not the time – in fact, it is never the time – to tamper with a program that more than 40% of retirees rely upon for all of their income,” he says.

Richtman notes that the Trustees estimate that the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2021 will be 2.3 percent. However, that projection does not reflect the impact of the pandemic on inflation, and the actual COLA for next year could be lower, he says.

“We do not know the extent of the pandemic’s impact on Social Security, but we do know that seniors need a boost in their benefits. Let’s strengthen the program now by eliminating the payroll tax wage cap and demanding the wealthy pay their fair share. That way, we can expand benefits and adopt a more accurate cost-of-living inflation formula for seniors,” suggests Richtman.

As for Medicare, says Richtman, the program’s financial future is relatively unchanged from last year’s report, but the impact of the pandemic is not reflected. “The Medicare Part A Trust Fund will become exhausted by 2026, after which the program still could pay 90 percent of benefits, if Congress does nothing to strengthen Medicare’s finances,” he adds.

Adds Richtman, the Trustees estimate that the Medicare Part B premium will rise to $153.30 per month in 2021, an $8.70 increase over last years.

Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works and the Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, agrees with Jenkins and Richtman that the Trustee’s report shows Social Security will remain strong through the rest of the 21st century and beyond, notwithstanding current circumstances. “Though the exact impact of today’s pandemic and economic conditions will not be clear until next year’s report, Social Security’s strength will shine through next year, as well. Social Security is built to withstand today’s events,” says Altman.

Altman believes that Social Security is a solution and the program continues to pay benefits automatically on time, especially with retiree’s 401(k)s taking a hit because of the pandemic crisis. “It is past time to increase Social Security’s modest but vital benefits, while requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share,” she says.

Stimulating the Economy by Slashing Payroll Taxes

Congress has passed payroll tax cuts –in 2011 and 2012 – in an attempt to stimulate the economy during a downturn. The recently enacted $2.2 trillion economic stimulus legislation passed last month, called the CARES Act, does allow for employers to defer their payroll tax payments but does not actually cut the levies, which are used to fund Medicare and Social Security.

Now GOP lawmakers led by President Donald Trump are using the virus pandemic as an excuse to slash payroll contributions, Social Security’s dedicated funding. Cutting the Social Security payroll taxes would reduce the amount of money withheld from employee paychecks, increasing their take-home pay.

Using a payroll tax cut to provide a financial stimulus in an effort to forestall a recession caused by COVID-19 pandemic “undermines the earned benefit nature of the program,” warns Dan Adcock, NCPSSM’s Director of Government Relations & Policy.

“Social Security is an earned benefit fully funded by the contributions of workers throughout their working lives. A payroll tax cut suspension or deferral chips away at that fundamental idea, making it easier each time it is enacted to turn to it again to meet some future crisis, until the payroll tax is not just cut but is eliminated, undermining the program in this manner would help achieve the goals of opponents of Social Security including those who would privatize the program,” says Adcock.

Adcock says that NCPSSM opposes a Congressional effort to alter the payroll tax that reduces revenue flowing into the Social Security trust fund or undermines the “earned right” nature of the benefit. “We support the enactment of tax incentives – other than cutting, suspending or deferring the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes – to encourage employers to keep their workers during this emergency,” he says.

Congressional lawmakers can extend the long-term solvency of the Social Security while improving earned benefits through passing legislation like Congressman John Larson’s H.R. 860, the Social Security 2100 Act, says Adcock. At press time, the House bill has over 208 cosponsors and its Social Security Subcommittee has held several hearings on the bill.

Several other bills to protect and expand Social Security benefits have also been introduced in both House and Senate chambers The presumptive Democratic nominee for President, former Vice President Joe Biden, has endorsed a Senate proposal sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would provide all Social Security beneficiaries with an extra $200/month during the coronavirus health crisis.

As to Medicare, lawmakers can take action to cut beneficiaries’ out of pocket costs and boost Medicare’s fiscal health by passing H.R. 3, The Lower Drug Costs Now Act — which would save the program some $400 billion in projected prescription drug costs by allowing the government to negotiate prices directly with Big Pharma.

Simply put, one sure method of ensuring the financial viability of Social Security is to require millionaires to pay their fair share of payroll taxes by removing or increasing the current income cap on payroll taxes, suggests Adcock.

Shoreing Up Social Security

With over 90 days until the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections, seniors might reach out to those running for Congress and the White House and call for the strengthening and expansion of Social Security. It’s time to protect the viability of the program for those currently receiving benefits and for the younger generations who follow.

View the 2020 Trustees Report at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2020/.

View an infographic about the program’s long-term financial outlook at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/social-security-long-term-financial-outlook.html

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.