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The Hill: Senator Hassan Op-Ed: The importance of supporting caregivers

Seniors and people who experience disabilities thrive when they can stay in their own homes and communities — also helping our communities thrive and saving taxpayers’ money by avoiding more expensive care. But this is often only possible because of the hard work and sacrifices made by our nation’s direct support professionals, whose critically important work is not always recognized in their salaries, and family caregivers, who may have to leave behind other careers to care for a loved one.

Our family has seen the importance of caregivers firsthand. My adult son Ben was born with cerebral palsy and experiences severe physical disabilities. At any given time, Ben has had as many as nine doctors and up to a dozen different medications, and requires 24-hour constant and consistent care. Had Ben been born a generation or two earlier, we would have been pressured to put him in an institution. But thanks to the availability of community-based care and talented caregivers, Ben graduated from our local high school and lives at home with us.

Our family has been fortunate to have strong support from family and direct support professionals in our New Hampshire community. Too often, however, many families are unable to find or afford direct support professionals for their loved ones, facing very difficult choices as a result.

At some point in their career, tens of millions of Americans leave the paid workforce or significantly reduce their hours to care for a loved one, with serious financial consequences. According to the AARP, family caregivers who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose an average of over $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. And women — who represent two-thirds of our country’s unpaid caregivers — are disproportionately affected.

It is critical we do everything possible to empower families facing the daunting reality of serious illness or disability. Families need to be able to find flexible and affordable solutions — whether it means hiring a qualified, appropriately compensated direct support professional, whether it means providing the care themselves without experiencing a significant financial burden or whether it is a combination of both.

Throughout my time in public service, I have worked to support the sacrifices that many caregivers make. As governor of New Hampshire, I was proud to sign the bipartisan Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act into law, which recognized the critical role that family caregivers play by making it easier for them to engage with the healthcare system on behalf of their loved one. Additionally, I issued an executive order to create the Governor’s Commission on Health Care Workforce, which brought together experts from nursing, child and elderly care, developmental and long-term services, and the broader healthcare community to make recommendations for addressing New Hampshire’s short- and long-term healthcare workforce needs.

In the Senate, I am working to build on those efforts. I recently joined Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to introduce the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act, which will create a Social Security credit and provide modest retirement compensation to individuals who have had to leave the workforce or reduce their hours to care for a loved one.

I am also standing firm against efforts like TrumpCare, which has devastating cuts to Medicaid that would exacerbate the challenges that many caregivers already face. TrumpCare would cut and cap the Medicaid program, which would force states to choose between slashing benefits, reducing the number of people who can get care, or both. This would have direct impacts on seniors who need home care, people with disabilities and those who care for them. We should be supporting our caregivers, not undermining them, and I will continue to fight against this legislation and look for ways to assist family caregivers and direct support professionals.

Every American deserves the opportunity to be fully included in their communities and to live healthy and productive lives. Caregivers help advance this principle, and it is critical that we work together in order to give them the support they need.