Bipartisan bill would monetarily recognize unpaid family caregivers for their contributions at home and in Maine's economy

 By Ramona du Houx

AUGUSTA, Maine – Not everyone who works hard gets a paycheck. That includes the more than 180,000 dedicated Maine caregivers who provide more than 150 million hours of unpaid support services every year to family members who need help with daily activities such as dressing, eating, cleaning, and taking their medicine.

At the State House in February, family caregivers joined health care professionals, policy experts, and advocates to support bipartisan legislation that would provide modest compensation to recognize and reward the valuable work of unpaid family caregivers.

The bill —LD 1919, sponsored by Rep. Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston — would create the Rep. Ann E. Peoples Family Caregiver Credit, a new refundable income tax credit worth up to $2,000 annually for eligible family caregivers.

“Having served as the primary caregiver to my mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I know firsthand how hard many Mainers work to provide care for their loved ones.” said Rep. Cloutier. “These caregivers make incredible personal and financial sacrifices. They deserve a tax credit that provides some relief and places value on their work. I am so honored to propose the Rep. Ann E. Peoples Family Caregiver Credit, named after the late legislator who not only served Maine proudly, but who brought her husband to the State House every day so that she could continue to give him the care he needed.”

Peoples died in November 2019 during her fifth term representing Westbrook in the Maine Legislature. While serving in the House of Representatives, she also provided daily support to her husband, Patrick, who used a wheelchair and needed assistance with physical tasks after suffering a stroke in 2012.

Maine’s patchwork system of professional caregivers is inadequate to meet the needs of every resident who needs long-term care. Mainers with adult family members who are elderly or have disabilities often step up to meet the unmet need. The responsibility for caregiving often falls to women, and those duties often make it harder for them to make ends meet.

“We cut back our hours or leave our jobs completely to provide necessary care for loved ones,” saidKim Lakin-Tomminello , who lives in Arundel, where she cares for her husband and father. She said caregiving involves supporting her loved ones in all aspects of their lives.. “We don’t want our fathers, mothers, husbands, wives or other family members to be forced to go into a home, so we sacrifice and provide care. A refundable tax credit such as the one in LD 1919 would help so many families like mine and so many women like me.” 

Research shows family caregivers are more likely to reduce hours, quit a job, retire early, and delay a job search because of caregiving responsibilities. Research by the Maine Center for Economic Policy indicates that 14 percent of private-sector workers in Maine had quit their jobs or reduced their hours for more than two weeks in order to take on family caregiving responsibilities.

Dr. Barbara Covey, a semi-retired emergency room physician, said family caregivers play a “critical role” in Maine. She went on to say family caregiving reduces the need for expensive, long-term residential care and can help avoid costly emergency room visits. But those savings for the care recipient come at a cost for the family caregiver.

“These individuals are helping to fill the large unmet need in Maine for care of the elderly and disabled,” Covey said in written testimony to the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, which will consider the bill. “Please recognize their sacrifice and contributions by support of this bill.”