Nearly one in eight Mainers cares for a family member who is older or has a disability. That’s 181,000 of us. Chances are, that number includes you or someone you know: maybe someone caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, or an adult child, sister or brother with a disability. And as Maine and the United States age, more and more people are becoming family caregivers. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of caregivers in the U.S. grew by 9.5 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were previously not family caretakers have taken on those responsibilities. And at the same time, the work of caregiving has, for many, become even more difficult, intense and exhausting.

Family caregivers do the incredibly hard and sometimes gut-wrenching work of caring for members of our communities, and they do it because they love their family members and want what’s best for them. And, we shouldn’t forget, they do it for free. In fact, caregiving often makes caregivers’ families less financially stable.

Not only that, but caregiving responsibilities leave many people unable to work for scheduling or other reasons. That carries a huge cost:

According to a recent AARP study, caregivers 50 and over who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose an average of more than $300,000 in income, retirement savings and benefits.

Family caregivers are already likely to be low-income, and for the women who make up more than half of family caregivers in the United States, their tireless work is often rewarded with poverty – for example, single women who care for their elderly parents are 2½ times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty in old age.

We’ve all heard that Maine is the oldest state. It’s also the most rural, with more than 60 percent of the state’s population outside urban areas. For families in rural areas, caregiving tasks are harder, more time-consuming and more expensive. And as more Mainers reach the age where they need care, more Mainers will be caring for them.

Family caregivers need to be acknowledged, and rewarded, for their work. That’s why we have submitted a bipartisan bill, L.D. 296, that puts $2,000 in the pockets of certified family caregivers.

This recognizes and thanks these essential workers for keeping their families, and our communities, stronger. Two thousand dollars might not seem like a lot, but for many folks it will make a real difference: It can put food on the table, or pay for prescriptions or gas to get to medical appointments.

Helping Mainers care for their loved ones at home also makes good fiscal sense. The alternative to care at home is often a facility that costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and where older Mainers and those with disabilities don’t always get the personal attention they would get at home.

More importantly, by providing a little bit of help for family caregivers who desperately need it, L.D. 296 would allow families to stay together. We need Maine’s family caregivers, and they need our support. If you are a family caregiver, or know one, or just believe caregivers should be recognized for the incredible work they do, please call your legislators and let them know that you support family caregivers, and you support L.D. 296.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.