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Hawaiian Senior Care Bill Could Be an Example for the Nation

Desiree Stennett
Oct. 26, 2017

By 2025, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. Hawaii's plan to help with the mounting cost of care for them is ahead of most states.

Image via Unsplash.com/@ismaelnieto

There's a new bill working its way through Hawaii's state legislature that could provide relief for working families buried under the financial strain of caring for aging relatives.

House Bill 607 and accompanying Senate Bill 534 would give up to $70 a day to working families who don't qualify for Medicaid, but who also can't afford to hire professional help to care for their elderly family members. On average, that pays for about three hours of professional care per day.

The bill is known as the Kupuna Care Bill. "Kupuna" is the Hawaiian word for "grandparent."

If this bill passes, families will be able to use the money to help cover the cost of hiring someone to help with transportation, adult day care, household chores and many other senior care needs.

In order to qualify for government vouchers under this bill, the family member who primarily provides the care must work at least 30 hours a week outside the home.

This bill would most directly benefit any working people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. For that reason, it's receiving support from many Hawaiian lawmakers. Both the Senate Committee on Health and the House Committee on Human Services voted in favor of the bill this month.

Before it can become a law, however, the bill will also need to be heard by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Finance.

"We don't have any indication yet that it's going to stop or that its in trouble," Pedro Haro, organizer of Caring Across Generations, the originator of the bill, told Care.com. "It's a test of our priorities. We believe this is a number one priority for our state but there are definitely a lot of worthy programs that are competing for the same dollars, so it will be a test of priorities."

Good for Business

According to Haro, the bill will not only be an immeasurable relief for families but it will also provide a boost to the local economy.

"This is a way to infuse the home care industry with dollars that weren't available before," Haro said. "And we are hoping through that to be able to revitalize and prepare for the upcoming influx of more elderly that will need services."

According to Honolulu Civil Beat, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization in Hawaii, there are nearly 250,000 people in Hawaii – many of whom are moms working full-time and part-time jobs outside the home – who provide unpaid care for family members.

Many of those families would likely qualify for assistance under this proposed law. Inevitably, that would create more jobs for caregivers. And with family members no longer stretched so thin at home, they could presumably devote more energy to their own work, which would benefit their employers as well.

Behind the Curve

Haro pointed out that senior care is especially important in Hawaii because Hawaiian citizens over the age of 65 have the longest life expectancy of any other state in America. He also explained that 90 percent of their senior population would prefer to age at home, rather than in a nursing home. This means that more families are caring for their aging relatives, and have to live with the rising cost of care for longer periods of time.

"We believe that we are the first to look at a program like this," Haro said. "We hope that this will become a model for the rest of the nation."

It will be important for other states to take note of how the Kupuna Care Bill works in Hawaii as the entire country ages.

By 2025, about 20 percent of the American population will be over 65, which means that more families will have to take on the task of paying for senior care -- whether they're financially able to or not.

"The problem isn't going to get any better," Haro said. "I think we're already behind the curve in working on this.

"It will become more dramatic and what we're really concerned about is how then will the next generation be able to deal with it. What kind of future are we building if we don't take care of it now?"

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