Vitale Bill to Establish Caregiver Support Task Force Advances

Senator Vitale

BODY WOULD EVALUATE, MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SUPPORT SERVICES

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chair Joseph F. Vitale that would establish a task force to evaluate caregiver support services in the state and provide recommendations for the improvement and expansion of such services was approved by the Senator’s committee today.

“This bill is meant to study and design the kind of relief and support needed by uncompensated relatives, friends or community members who take care of the elderly, disabled or mentally ill,” said Senator Vitale, (D-Middlesex).  “Caregiving can take a serious emotional and physical toll that often leads to a series of negative consequences in the caregivers’ own lives, ranging from health issues to loss of wages and benefits.  We need to formulate the right kind of support for caregivers now, so that when the number of New Jersey’s adults needing assistance with daily activities doubles in 2020, we will be prepared to help.”

The bill, S-959, defines “caregiver support services” to mean any type of support or assistance made available to caregivers in the state, ranging from financial assistance from any source, as well as any other type of assistance provided by public or private employers, hospitals, health care providers or organizations, or government agencies.  The term “caregiver” means any person, regardless of age, who assists an elderly or functionally impaired individual perform daily tasks, in a non-medical setting and without compensation.

The task force required by the bill would consist of 11 members: the Commissioner of Human Services, the President of the New Jersey chapter of the AARP, the Executive Director of Caregivers of New Jersey, the Executive Director of The Arc of New Jersey, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Jersey, the President of the Home Care and Hospice Association of New Jersey, the President of LeadingAge New Jersey, and the President of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater New Jersey Chapter, or their designees.  It would also include a caregiver for a person with a disability, one who cares for a person with mental illness and one who cares for an elderly person, all three to be appointed by the governor.

The bill would charge the task force with identifying caregiver support services already available in the state and surveying caregivers to summarize their numbers, their ages and geographic locations, the amount of time they spend in caregiving activities, the number of work absences due to caretaker activities, the nature of illnesses or conditions suffered by the persons they care for, and existing support services they most commonly use.  It would also require that the task force learn the type and frequency of caregiving tasks, the feasibility of delegating tasks to others or to medical personnel, the sufficiency of training programs, support and respite care services, the use of medical leave, and any other topic relevant to the task force’s responsibilities.

The task force would be required to meet within 30 days of the appointment of its members and elect a chairperson from among the members. It would hold at least one meeting in each of the northern, central, and southern regions of the state and would be able to conduct business without a quorum but only vote when a quorum is present.

The bill would also authorize the task force to solicit, receive, and expend any grant moneys or other funds that may be made available for its purposes, and to have its professional and clerical staff provided by the Department of Human Services. The bill would require the task force to prepare and submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor and legislature no later than 12 months after its organization. It would dissolve 30 days after the report is submitted.

“Right now, there are about 1.75 million New Jerseyans providing varying degrees of unreimbursed care to persons who are limited in their daily activities,” said Senator Vitale.  “They experience more physical and mental health complications, higher mortality risks, and suffer from an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, diminished immune response, slower wound healing, and a greater incidence of hospitalization than non-caregivers.

“Because of a lack of sufficient caregiver support services, many caregivers either miss work or are forced to quit their jobs in order to effectively provide caregiving services – and a caregiver who provides intense personal care can lose as much as $659,000 in wages, pensions, and Social Security over the course of their caregiving career.  These compassionate people who sacrifice to take care of others deserve all the support we can muster.”

Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Mexico have passed legislation that established task forces to study issues faced by caregivers. Virginia established a joint subcommittee to study caregiver issues, which consisted of members of the legislature and non-legislator citizens in 2017. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, and Missouri have established task forces to focus on specific topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, medical marijuana, and grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Today’s 8-0 vote advances the bill to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.