health care

Family Caregivers Seek Tax Credit to Help Pay for Aides and Supplies

Margaret Alexander, left, and her sister, Susan Shields, care for their 96-year-old mother, Louise Shields, in their Bronx home.
Margaret Alexander, left, and her sister, Susan Shields, care for their 96-year-old mother, Louise Shields, in their Bronx home. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Margaret Alexander spends thousands of dollars a year to buy supplies to care for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother.

“It’s a real struggle,” said Alexander, who lives in The Bronx near her 96-year-old mom. “You constantly go through items like diapers, disposable bed pads and bibs.”

A team of state lawmakers, with the backing of several major social services groups, wants to give the 2.5 million unpaid caregivers in New York like Alexander a tax break for the estimated $7,000 they spend on average annually on loved ones who need help with routine activities.

Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) who heads the Assembly’s committee on aging, said that the proposal gives caregivers a “helping hand.”

The measure sponsored by Bronson and state Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse) would create a tax credit to allow family-member caregivers to recoup 50% of certain expenses up to $3,500 a year.

“It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but that $3,500 will help others meet the financial needs that they have,” Bronson told THE CITY.

Limited Funding Pool

The proposed bill would limit the credits to $35 million each year — allocated on a first come, first served basis to caregivers with a gross annual income of $75,000 or less, or $150,000 or less for a couple.

The funds could be used to pay for home health aides, adult day care, health care equipment, home modifications, transportation and more. Supporters of the legislation say it will save taxpayers in the long run by keeping loved ones out of institutions where they can run up costly, government-funded Medicaid and Medicare tabs.

“You’re staving off the time when people have to go into a nursing home, for example, which is very expensive,” said May, who chairs her chamber’s committee on aging. “They are helping keep people healthier longer, and that also reduces health care costs.”

Money Back

The proposal comes as ballooning Medicaid spending in New York could force the state into spending cuts this upcoming year to address a Medicaid budget gap, estimated by the Cuomo administration to be between $3 billion and $4 billion.

The proposed measure is backed by the AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association. Similar AARP-backed measures have been introduced in Congress and in various state legislatures. Arizona, North Dakota, Montana and Georgia have similar tax credits for caregivers, while neighboring New Jersey has a tax credit for caregivers of wounded veterans.

Louise Shields.
Louise Shields. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Family caregivers are the backbone of our long-term care system,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “We need to support them so they can continue to provide care for our loved ones.”

State lawmakers and the AARP are pushing  Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the measure a priority for the upcoming legislative session. May said she and Bronson introduced the bill in April to rev up support and momentum.

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has not yet weighed in on the measure but has backed the concept of the state stepping up to help families aiding loved ones. The city Department for the Aging released a “Caregiver Support Plan” last year that indicated the city would “support legislation that benefits unpaid caregivers.”

A department spokesperson, Zenovia Earle, said the agency is still working with “federal, state and local officials to identify bills that best serve New York City caregivers.”

She added, “Caregiving is a complex policy area that requires cooperation across all levels of government.”

Awaiting Relief

The city compiled its plan after the City Council in 2016 passed a law requiring the Department for the Aging to survey caregivers. That survey found the majority of caregivers in New York City are women who are at least 50 years old.

More than half devote at least 30 hours a week, and more than a third face financial hardship.

The analysis also revealed that caregivers said getting a break from their duties was “one of the areas with the highest levels of unmet need.”

That rings true for Alexander, who’s 61 and retired from a job with the city Comptroller’s Office. She’s found others facing similar challenges through the Alzheimer’s Association’s telephone support group.

Her sister, Susan Shields, also helps watch their bedridden mother.

They have used their mom’s private insurance to cover major expenses like a hospital bed and wheelchair. But items like ointment and bandages typically come out of pocket, Alexander said. And they’ve had to use home health aides sparingly.

“Any kind of government assistance would be so appreciated,” she said. “We could probably get the home attendant in more often and that would give my sister and I more of a break.”

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