By Beth Finkel | November 24, 2019

There’s no shortage of debate over how to control health care costs.

But we can make progress here in New York by enacting a proposal that has bipartisan support to help the New Yorkers who themselves contribute $31 billion in care every year: family caregivers.

That’s the value of the unpaid care 2.5 million New Yorkers provide to their loved ones – care that helps us age with independence and dignity in our own homes, as the vast majority want.

But that care does come at a cost; family caregivers spend nearly $7,000 a year out of their own pockets to help their loved ones with everything from home modifications to the cost of home health aides, personal care attendants and adult day care.

If we’re smart, we’ll help sustain and support our family caregivers by giving them a modest – and cost-effective – tax credit.

As we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers would be wise to include a middle class family caregiver tax credit in next year’s state budget.

The state has made progress in recent years, with an historic $15 million increase in this year’s budget for in-home services for the elderly, such as home-delivered meals, transportation to medical appointments, and assistance with daily activities – all of which provide family caregivers support and respite.

But family caregivers need more.

A tax credit could help middle class New Yorkers avoid sending a loved one to a nursing home – a far more expensive and mostly taxpayer-funded option.

The chairs of the state Legislature’s Aging Committees, Senator Rachel May and Assemblymember Harry Bronson, introduced legislation earlier this year to create such a tax credit. Their bill (S5100/A7209) has bipartisan support.

But tax credits need to be part of the state’s financial plan. Governor Cuomo should include a modest set-aside in his next budget proposal. It would not only help family caregivers but relieve taxpayers of the potentially much larger financial burden of nursing home care when family caregivers burn out or can’t afford to continue.

Nursing homes typically cost over $100,000 a year, and Medicaid picks up most of the tab. The tax credit AARP is advocating would provide no more than $3,500 per year per caregiver. The math is obvious.

And the tax credit has wide support – including 84% of New York voters age 40 and over, according to a 2018 survey, and 45 organizations.

There’s good reason; AARP’s national 2016 survey found the nearly $7,000 the average family caregiver spends out of pocket on caregiving eat up 20% of their income. And it’s even worse for caregivers of color; African Americans spend 34% of their income on average and Hispanics, who dip into their pockets for more than $9,000 on average, spend a whopping 44% of income.

As New York’s population continues to age – with more New Yorkers now 65 and over than under 13 – we need to acknowledge the value family caregivers provide on so many levels, and the dwindling number of potential caregivers for the growing number of New Yorkers who will need care.

A modest tax credit to help support and sustain family caregivers is a small price to pay – but a huge investment.

Beth Finkel is AARP New York State Director