Financial Help for Family Caregivers

November 2, 2009  
Filed under Aging Parents

Dear Savvy Senior,
Q. I’ve been taking care of my elderly mother for nearly a year now and it’s wearing me out both physically and financially. Is there any way I could get paid to be her caregiver?

A. To get paid as your mother’s caregiver there are several possibilities you should check into, and a variety of support services that can help, too. Here’s what you should know.

Caregiving for Pay

Is your mom on or eligible for Medicaid (health insurance for low-income folks)? If so, you may be able to get paid a small amount by the government. In some states, Medicaid offers a Cash and Counseling program that provides direct financial assistance to their beneficiaries, and that money can be used to pay in-home caregivers. A few other states have similar programs for low-income seniors, even if the person receiving care doesn’t quite qualify for Medicaid. To find out about these options contact your local Medicaid office or visit www.benefitscheckup.org – an online service that helps seniors and their families find and enroll in federal, state, local and private benefit programs.

Other Options

If your mom has financial resources of her own, find out if she can afford to pay you herself. If she agrees, it may be a good idea for both of you to draft a short written contract detailing your work and payment arrangements. Or, if your mom has long-term care insurance that includes in-home care coverage, in some cases those benefits can be used to pay you.

Tax Breaks

The IRS may be able to help you out as well if you can show that you pay at least half of your mother’s yearly expenses, and if her annual income is below $3,650 (not counting Social Security). If so, you can claim her as a dependent on your taxes, and reduce your taxable income by $3,650. Your mom doesn’t have to live with you to qualify as a dependent. IRS Publication 501 has a worksheet that can help you with this (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p501.pdf).

If your mom’s income however is over $3,650, you can’t claim her as a dependent. But if you’re paying at least half her living expenses, you can still get a tax break if you’re helping pay her medical and long-term care costs and they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. See the IRS publication 502 (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf) for details.

Support Services

If you don’t qualify for caregivers pay or a tax break, you can still get some financial relief through the Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP). This is a federally funded program that provides aid for specific caregiver needs like respite care or adult daycare to give you a break, counseling and support groups, and supplemental services including the purchase of medical supplies, SOS emergency response systems and even home modifications. In addition to the FCSP, you should also check into home delivered meal programs, volunteer companion programs, and even home and personal care services. These too can lighten your load. To locate all the various programs and support services near you, contact your Area Agency on Aging. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number or visit www.eldercare.gov.

Savvy Tip:

The best Web resource to search for caregiver support services and programs in your area is the Family Caregiver Alliance at www.caregiver.org. When you get there, click on “Family Care Navigator: State by State Guide.”

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

 

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