Approximately 43.5 million Americans are unpaid caregivers, usually for an elderly family member or a child. The estimated monetary value of those services is about $470 billion and rising, as the share of adults age 65 and older is expected to increase (from 15 percent of the U.S. population to 24 percent by 2060). At the same time, the share expected to live in nursing homes or similar facilities is expected to decline — meaning a rise in unpaid family caregivers.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed creating a $6,000 tax credit for caregivers and expanding caregivers’ Social Security benefits. The congressional bill that comes closest to Clinton’s proposal is H.R. 3377 and S. 2721, the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act.
What it does
Introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY17) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), the bill would provide caregivers a Social Security earnings credit when they take unpaid time off from their employment to provide care, whether by leaving their jobs or reducing their hours. The credit would be added to earnings to calculate future Social Security benefits for the caregiver’s retirement.
How much the credit would be worth depend both on the number of hours spent caregiving and the amount of outside income earned. Lowey’s press release announcing the bill gave an example: “Someone who is a full-time caregiver would receive a credit worth around $22,000 a year, while someone who is able to work and earns $33,000 would receive a credit worth around $5,500. It phases out when the caregiver makes more than the average national earnings.”
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the bill is a necessary piece of financial assistance to help those who sacrifice themselves to help others, especially as the number of caregivers is expected to increase over the coming years and decades.
“Sacrificing a paycheck to care for a loved one shouldn’t jeopardize a secure and enjoyable retirement.,” lead House sponsor Lowey said in a press release. “This would be particularly helpful for women, who make up 66 percent of unpaid caregivers who, on average, lose $324,000 in wages and retirement benefits in their lifetime.”
“People who care for loved ones deserve our gratitude. Penalizing caregivers by docking the Social Security benefits they count on is backwards.,” lead Senate sponsor Murphy said in his own press release.
What opponents say
GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any direct statements of opposition. While the House bill has attracted 61 co-sponsors, they are all Democrats. Republicans generally oppose new spending measures, and Clinton’s version proposed on the campaign trail would cost an estimated $10 billion — and that’s according to her own campaign, with campaigns often underestimating costs for their proposed policies. (The congressional version has not yet been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.)
Republicans also generally oppose further complicating the tax code as Speaker Paul Ryan leads the charge to drastically simplify it.
Odds of passage
The Senate bill has attracted one other cosponsor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), although the Senate version was also introduced six months later than the House version. That version has not yet received a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
The House bill has not yet received a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee. A version has been introduced in every Congress since at least 2002, but has yet to receive a vote.