In West Palm, US Secretary of Labor hears about need for help for seniors

The Biden administration has a large – and expensive – plan for roads, bridges, and broadband.

But during a swing in West Palm Beach to promote the president’s plans on Monday, his Labor Secretary Marty Walsh learned Floridians want help with a problem much closer to home: how to provide care to the elderly or sick.

In addition to a two-party $ 1.2 trillion physical infrastructure plan that Congress is still trying to fund, President Biden is proposing a separate plan that would spend up to $ 3.5 trillion to fight climate change. , stimulate social programs like Medicaid and reform immigration.

Biden wants $ 400 billion of that $ 3.5 trillion spent on helping home and long-term health care services.

After:June COVID-19 vaccinations increased in Palm Beach County immigrant communities

After:COVID-19 Delta Kills Palm Beach County Woman; Florida cases triple

After:Bethesda East Hospital plans updated emergency room following pandemic

The physical infrastructure bill enjoys some Republican support, although that support is fragile, and it could still lose the support needed to prevent it from being obstructed killed.

The $ 3.5 trillion “concerned economy” plan, details of which are still being worked out, could be approved with Democratic votes alone, as a decision by the Senate parliamentarian allows it to be exempt from filibuster. as a budget item.

It won’t make the Republicans oppose it less fervently.

They argued that Biden’s spending plans would boost inflation and hurt the economy. They made no such argument in 2017 when former President Donald Trump enacted a tax cut law that the Congressional Budget Office said would add $ 2.3 trillion to the national debt over the next year. decade.

Home health care workers and others caring for loved ones struggling with Alzheimer’s disease told Walsh, former mayor of Boston, that they needed help.

Health worker: “I like what I do, but I am paid too little”

After starting his day Monday by visiting a daycare center in Boynton Beach, Walsh, joined by US Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, participated in a roundtable on home health care at the Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach and then another on elderly care at an Alzheimer’s care facility on Australian Avenue .

During the library forum, Jacinth Finch, a 62-year-old home worker, told Walsh how hard it is to make ends meet doing a job she loves.

Finch said she makes $ 10 an hour and her rent is $ 1,200 a month.

“The doctor said I shouldn’t be working,” she said. “Both of my knees are bad. I’m 62 and have two jobs.”

Finch said she couldn’t afford healthcare or stop working long enough to recover from knee surgery.

Still, she said she would not stop providing home health care.

“It’s a real joy,” she said. “I love what I do. I don’t think we should work so hard and get paid so little.”

Salandra Benton of the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation told Walsh that he shouldn’t view Finch’s situation as unique.

“Her story is not uncommon,” Benton said, adding that many of those who work long hours at low wages to care for the elderly or sick are women and minorities.

Taking Finch as an example, Benton said they don’t have a comfortable or even stable retirement ahead.

“When she retires, her Social Security check will be around $ 500 a month,” Benton said. “How is she going to survive? We must do better.

Based on her home health care income alone of just under $ 21,000 per year, Finch would be eligible for nursing home assistance if she did not have assets worth $ 2. $ 000 or more, according to a chart from the American Council on Aging.

Biden wants to expand Medicaid, the federal government’s health care program for the poor.

After:Ted Deutch, new HHS chief, calls on Florida to expand Medicaid

After:Florida stands to gain from Biden’s infrastructure plan. Will the GOP oppose it?

After:Palm Beach County plans how to spend $ 290 million in federal COVID rescue money

Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal and state governments. It was expanded with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but Florida remains one of the few states that hasn’t paid more to withdraw more federal money so it can provide coverage for more. of poor residents.

Medicare will not cover nursing home assistance or adult child care

The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based organization that does health care research, estimated in May that an additional 850,000 poor Floridians could be enrolled in Medicaid if state leaders participate in the expansion of the program. .

While many of the country’s poorest residents may turn to Medicaid for help with nursing home care, Medicare – the federal health care program most seniors qualify for – does not cover. assistance in retirement homes or childcare services.

This means that those who are not in need have to dip into their pockets to cover these costs.

And these costs are high.

Using data from the 2021 survey from health insurance company Genworth, the website SeniorLiving.org reported that adult child care centers cost an average of $ 74 per day. Home helpers cost an average of $ 150 per day. Assisted living facilities cost $ 141 per day and a semi-private nursing home room costs $ 255 per day, which is $ 45 less per day than a private nursing home room.

In Florida, the survey found that adult daycare costs $ 1,300 per month.

Given these costs, many choose to intervene on their own when a loved one needs care.

A 2020 AARP study found that one in five Americans are now an unpaid family caregiver.

From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of Americans providing unpaid family caregiving services rose from 18% to 21%, according to the study.

Previous research from AARP found that family caregivers spend 24 hours a week helping loved ones and spend an average of $ 7,000 out of pocket.

“When you’re going to be a caregiver, you are,” Elvin Proctor told Walsh during a senior care forum at John B. McCracken Alzheimer’s Care and Service Center Monday afternoon. “You have to figure out where the resources are. You have to be creative. “

Caregivers with Alzheimer’s disease: “We need help”

Proctor said he takes care of an aunt who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Mary Barnes, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s Community Care, said about 60,000 people in Palm Beach County have Alzheimer’s disease. That figure is probably an underestimate, she said.

Margaret Foster, who also participated in the forum with Walsh, explained to the Secretary of Labor what it is like to take care of a husband and brother in need of help.

“It was very difficult,” said Foster. “It’s not an easy task. You need support. You need help. You sleep with your eyes open.”

Walsh thanked forum participants and singled out those who provide care to the elderly or the sick.

“My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “My aunt took care of her.

The Labor Secretary said the West Palm Beach swing would inform what he would report to the president.

What he heard, he said, “reaffirms what needs to be in the legislation.”

Frankel said she was “optimistic” that much of what the president is proposing will end up in the law.

“I think there is a lot of support,” she said.

The oscillations of cabinet secretaries and the attention they can draw to issues don’t hurt, she said.

“At the end of the day, public opinion is very important,” she said.

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