Just as we were getting ready to say goodbye to 2006 and greet 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Lifespan Respite Care Act. House and Senate companion bills were introduced and championed by Representatives Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) and James Langevin (D-RI) in the House of Representatives and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and John Warner (R-VA) in the Senate.
The new law authorizes $289 million over five years for states to (1) develop respite care at the state and local levels; (2) provide respite services for family caregivers caring for children or adults; (3) train and recruit respite care workers and volunteers; (4) provide information to caregivers about available respite or support services; and (5) assist caregivers in gaining access to such services. The new law cannot be implemented until Congress appropriates the funding.
The National Defense Authorization Act was another bill passed in the last quarter of 2006 which contained provisions to support family caregivers. The new law, signed by President Bush on October 17, requires the Defense Department to establish a panel to develop training curricula for those who provide care to a family member who served in the Armed Forces and suffered a traumatic brain injury. This new Traumatic Brain Injury Family Caregiver Panel is charged with developing curricula on techniques, strategies, and skills for care and assistance of the family member. The Defense Department must also determine how to disseminate the curricula to relevant health care professionals, families, and other care or support personnel who provide services to Armed Forces personnel affected by traumatic brain injury.
Now, as we begin a new year, it is time for Congress and state legislatures across the country to start with a clean slate of caregiving legislation. 2007 marks a year in which all federal and state legislative bodies begin new sessions; all legislation introduced but not passed in the last two years is no longer active. Yet, some bills introduced near the end of 2006 serve to highlight the types of legislation we may see introduced this year. In addition, there were innovative state actions in 2006 which serve as examples for what other states could implement this year.
New Jersey Senator Stephen Sweeney (D) introduced a bill (S.2249) on October 16 to provide family leave benefits for workers caring for sick family members and newborn or newly adopted children. The current Temporary Disability Benefits law in New Jersey does not provide wage loss protection to workers who must take time off from work to care for a sick relative. This bill would amend that law by allowing workers to take up to twelve weeks of leave at two-thirds of their weekly wage up to a maximum weekly amount of $488 to care for a child, spouse, domestic partner or parent with a “serious health condition.”
Massachusetts launched its new Enhanced MassHealth Adult Family Care program in November, which pays eligible family members about $18,000 to provide a loved one with the help and support that prevents or delays institutional care. Qualified caregivers include any friend or family member other than a spouse, parent, or legally responsible relative, and the program will allow elders and persons with disabilities to move into a caregiver’s home or caregivers to move into the individual’s home. Qualified individuals must meet financial eligibility requirements for MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid program) and require physical assistance with activities of daily living and/or help managing their behavior. The state will provide at least $2 million a year for the program, and MassHealth expects about 30 new enrollees each month.
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