Hawaii Eldercare Law Could Set Future Precedent

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A Hawaiian law awaiting the governor’s signature could influence eldercare legislation for the rest of the United States after local leaders push for a bill that aims to aid family caregivers. If passed, the law would be the first of its kind in the U.S. to provide funds to family members who hold down jobs and act as caregivers — promising up to $70 a day in help from home aids.

With trained caregiver hourly rates teetering between roughly $10 and $12, this kind of assistance would give caregivers time to pick up overtime at work, take care of children, run errands, and provide care while they’re not around.

Families Who Need the Help Most Can’t Afford It

This funding is also important because many times families who need the most help cannot afford it. “In Hawaii, we’ve heard time and again that it’s not wealthy people that are hiring domestic workers — it’s people who need some support here and there,” Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, explained to Slate. “It’s working families who are … working part-time or temporary [jobs], or they’re self-employed and they’re trying to piece together work.”

Bill Doesn’t Interfere With Cultural Norms

This bill will not only be a potential lifeline for families who need it, it will also reinforce culture. Kevin Simowitz, Caring Across Generations political director, told Slate that as they looked for ways to help Hawaii’s aging population, they saw an unexpected pushback from locals. “I was surprised at how often, early in the conversation, people would say some version of, ‘I don’t think this is somebody else’s responsibility. I think care is my responsibility. My parents are getting older — I should take care of them.’”

In Hawaii, the job of a caregiver is revered with respect and dignity. The elderly are lovingly referred to as Kupuna, and the responsibility of a child to care for their parents is one that is not second-guessed. So, when local leaders and advocacy groups started poking around and learning more about Hawaii’s elderly and those who care for them, they were surprised to find that family caregivers shied away and generally refused outside help, even if it was needed.

It’s the balance between family eldercare and specialized help that has aided in this bill’s support. The legislation doesn’t replace the tradition of eldercare in the Hawaiian community, but rather reinforces it by providing vital resources to families in need.

Other States May Follow

The bill is also timely. The U.S. census projected that by 2030, more than one-fifth of the population will be 65 or older. On the island state of Hawaii, that number is expected to reach 30 percent by the same year.

Right now, Washington State is considering a similar bill, and other states with rapidly aging populations like Maine, Michigan, and Minnesota are also taking note. As the rest of the country ages, we assume other states will look to Hawaii’s program for inspiration — if it gets Gov. David Ige’s expected signature, that is.

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