Honor kupuna caregivers with funding
Hawaii often inspires me, but last December, when the state Executive Office on Aging rolled out the Kupuna Caregivers program, it outdid itself.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Hawaii often inspires me, but last December, when the state Executive Office on Aging rolled out the Kupuna Caregivers program, it outdid itself. The Aloha State, the state with the longest life expectancy in the nation and a culture that honors its kupuna, became the first in the nation to pass and implement legislation to support working family caregivers.
We all know someone with a care story: maybe your co-worker, or your neighbor, or even you, are constantly being pulled between career and caregiving responsibilities. Now that the Kupuna Caregivers program has launched, caregivers won’t have to choose between their job and their family.
Now for some tough news: Without a new infusion of resources from the Legislature this session, the program will likely only be able to support a small fraction of the families it set out to help. And it’s not for lack of demand: hundreds of people have already called the Office on Aging’s hotline, inquiring about receiving funds from the program to care for their kupuna. We can’t let them down.
Cindy Goto is one of the many family caregivers in the state, helping care for her parents. Trained as a doctor, Cindy has also seen the physical and mental toll caregiving takes on her patients who are family caregivers. With the benefit the Kupuna Caregivers program provides, Cindy knows working caregivers could access some much-needed support to ensure that no one has to quit their job to provide the care their parents deserve.
The Kupuna Caregivers Act was designed to help people who are constantly asked to choose between caring for their kupuna and doing their jobs. The new law provides up to $70 a day in services for caregivers to help offset the costs of care or to help them hire outside help.
Hawaii’s unique culture helped to plant the seeds for this victory. Hawaii’s voters and policymakers alike recognize the importance of preserving the dignity of kupuna, with several programs already in place that support the 90 percent of kupuna who wish to age at home. The passage of this program honors kupuna and those who do the vital work of providing care for them. The implementation and funding of Kupuna Caregivers must honor and build on Hawai’i’s strong care legacy.
Hawaii needs this program to be fully funded. Recent research showed that nearly 1 in 5 Hawaii households had a member leave the workforce to help care for an aging loved one. For countless caregivers across the state, the majority of whom are women, this act could mean the difference between needing to give up working to care for their aging relatives, or being able to keep their jobs and maintain their own retirement security.
With additional funding, this program could help hundreds of working caregivers across the state. Many care champions in the Legislature worked hard to pass the bill in 2017 without a single “no” vote, and we know we can count on them to continue growing the reach of this successful program.
This session, legislators have the opportunity to fully fund the Kupuna Caregivers Act, helping to establish a new caregiving infrastructure in the state and making a significant difference in the lives of working family caregivers. Hawaii has already set an example for the nation in passing this legislation. Now, let’s once again set an example for the nation by helping Kupuna Caregivers realize its promise. Let’s show what this program can do for those who do some of our country’s most important work.
Ai-jen Poo is executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations; last spring, she was the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals.