I come from a large extended family that steps up when one of us needs help. When my grandmother had a stroke and my great aunt began losing her sight, my relatives and I pitched in, taking care of our loved ones at home. My family has made many sacrifices to see that each of our loved ones have the quality of care they deserve and we are fortunate to have that ability, because not many do.
My uncle owns his own small business, but has had to cut back on the work he can take on because he cannot afford to pay anyone to stay home with my great aunt. His wife is bearing a large part of the financial strain that comes with maintaining the household in addition to changing her work schedule to stay home on days when my uncle is working. My mother has left the workforce to care for my grandmother during the day while my aunts are at work. She has moved in with my grandmother and has no income of her own.
I give my mother money when she needs things and when my grandmother can afford to, she will give her a couple bucks from her Social Security check. I am a single mother with limited income, so I cannot afford to give my mother a lot of money. We cannot afford to pay a nurse to come and care for my grandmother and her Medicaid does not cover the cost.
The minimal income that is provided through Social Security barely covers prescription costs for the long list of medicine my grandmother and great aunt have to take (Lovastatin, Lisinopril, Exelon Patch to name a few) and meals for a month, and would not begin to cover the cost of nursing care. More importantly than the financial strain that comes with caring for a family member 24 hours, seven days a week is the emotional toll it takes. There is a lot of stress involved in the care of a person with limited physical or mental capacity
My family receives no compensation for the sacrifices we make. We do the things we do, because it is our moral obligation to care for those that once cared for us. We love each other and only want to give them the respect they deserve.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow about the demands of the “sandwich generation,” referring to Americans balancing caregiving and work at a time when public policy programs are under attack by some lawmakers.
If I could talk to the Committee, I would tell them that my family and many others would benefit greatly from more family-friendly policies that would reward caregivers, not penalize them. My story is not unique. I hear it a lot in conversations with my peers. The generational gaps are getting smaller and the number of seniors that require care is getting larger. Families need support, more resources, and peace of mind. Government programs, like Social Security, were designed to keep seniors healthy and happy, but right now they not providing the level of support that they need. The working people need a break.
Aging is not something that happens just to people of color or the poor. Aging is universal and unstoppable. At some point in our lives we will all need care and the people that provide it need support.
Sen. Tom Harkin’s “Rebuild America Act” would help families by alleviating the high cost of child care, improve Social Security benefits and strengthen the private pension system. It would also guarantee paid sick time to workers.