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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Legislature should support caregivers

Anyone who has cared for an elderly or ailing loved one at home understands how difficult it is. And as it's a circumstance that many of us expect to face eventually, we all can support a boost for caregivers.

Now it's time to convert that understanding into some dollars, making this act of love a little less of a financial burden.

A proposal to offer such a boost is making its way through the Legislature, and it merits some serious attention. The original versions of House Bill 2097 and Senate Bill 3274 seek to provide a $1,000 refundable tax credit to Hawai'i residents providing in-home, long-term care to a family member. This would mean that even those who pay no tax would qualify to receive the benefit.

Both bills have advanced and now await review by the budgetary committees in each house. Unfortunately, though, HB2097 now recommends only a simple, nonrefundable tax credit, which means the neediest families will not get the assist that is so crucial to caregivers.

The Senate version retains the original language, so this measure could end up in a conference committee. That step would create another opportunity to ensure that those on the lower end of the income scale aren't left out of this important provision.

The governor also is proposing similar tax relief as an inducement for those who can afford long-term-care insurance to invest in it. There's every reason for both measures to pass this year.

Grass-roots groups supporting these moves argue that family nursing may be rooted in Island cultural values but needs sustenance all the same. With mounting financial pressures cutting across the middle- and lower-income groups, the added costs of caregiving become unaffordable.

Much of it may be covered by Medicare and Medicaid entitlements, but certain essentials nursing assistance and respite care, for example are not. And although a $1,000 allotment won't go that far, it may lower the hurdles just enough to help people through, allowing them to extend the ultimate gesture of aloha to those they cherish most.