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Hurting Rather Than Helping The Elderly

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

One of the ill-conceived pieces of legislation introduced this past session would have granted caregivers of elderly relatives a $1,000 tax credit for each year care was provided if the elderly relative was 65 years or older and lived in the caregiver’s home for at least six months during the taxable year. 

Even taxpayers with no income tax liability could claim the credit. In order to be eligible to claim the credit, the caregiver would have to have adjusted gross income of less than $50,000. The care recipient, on the other hand, must have depended on the caregiver for 51% or more of the care recipient’s financial support. 

The annual $1,000 credit would be granted provided that: (1) an eligible taxpayer may claim the tax credit for every taxable year a care recipient receives care; (2) only one caregiver may claim a tax credit for any care recipient cared for in a taxable year; and (3) an eligible taxpayer may not claim multiple tax credits under this section in a taxable year. In order to claim the credit, the taxpayer must be in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and county statutes, rules and regulations. Any amount of credit in excess of the taxpayer’s liability would be refunded to the caregiver taxpayer. 

Apparently this legislation was introduced in response to the number of persons cited in various news stories who have given up careers or jobs to provide care for an elderly relative. While this proposal may have been politically appealing, it was just that, politically appealing. As it was noted in hearings on this proposal, there was no accountability or oversight that would assure taxpayers that their tax dollars were being used wisely. The tax credit would be handed out solely because someone was caring for an elderly relative. Some lawmakers argued that by encouraging relatives to care for elder family members at home, it would reduce the demand for more costly institutional care which taxpayers would have to subsidize anyway. So the credit was viewed as a more economical way to address the problem of caring for an aging population. 

When it was pointed out that the majority of elder abuse cases are perpetrated by a relative, one committee member retorted that abuse of elders can also take place in institutional care settings. Apparently that committee member was more bent on insuring that she was viewed as an advocate of the bill rather than thinking  the whole idea through. 

The proposal would have granted a tax benefit to individuals and not institutions. More importantly, the tax benefit would have been granted without regard to the quality of the care. So the credit would have been available to a caregiver who provided loving care as well as to one who was abusive to the elder relative. 

How typical of lawmakers who think that they just solved a problem by throwing money at it. At least when the money is appropriated, lawmakers can question how the money is to be spent and have some assurance that if the money is not spent properly, someone will be held accountable. 

However, the issue of caregivers for elderly family members is far more complex than merely compensating caregivers for lost wages. If, in fact, lawmakers want to provide some sort of incentive to families to care for their elder relatives, then they should come up with other types of support for that type of care. 

For example, one of the common contributors to the abuse of the elderly by a caregiver is that the caregiver suffers severe stress in caring for the elderly relative. Because the elderly person may not possess all of his or her faculties, repetition, slowness of reaction, incoherent responses, all stress the patience one can offer in those types of situations. Instead of just handing out a tax credit because the caregiver is a relative, a stipend could be provided to all caregivers that also involves a program of respite care so caregivers can have a “time out” once in a while and provide classes which would help caregivers learn how to provide quality care from how to pick up an elder after a fall to how to bathe the person. 

It should also be noted that the proposal, as introduced last session, discriminates against those individuals who are not 65 years and older but who may need at home care like a quadriplegic teenager injured in an automobile accident. The measure would also have required the caregiver to provide at least 51% of the financial support of the elderly person. If the elderly person had pension and Social Security income that covered most of his or her living expenses but not care, would that caregiver be denied the credit? And should the caregiver’s adjusted gross income be one dollar more than $49,999, the credit would not be available. 

So what might look like a magnanimous gesture could be nothing more than political pandering with very little thought.

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