Caregiving Questions with Senator Bennet

By Sen. Michael Bennet

What role do family caregivers play in the US? What does it mean to be a caregiver?

Family caregivers play a pivotal role in helping millions of Americans live independently in their homes and communities. Many Americans, including older adults and people with disabilities, rely on family caregivers to help with daily activities such as eating, dressing, bathing, and traveling. On average, family caregivers spend 18 hours per week providing critical support to a family member. And most caregivers don’t receive payment, despite the fact that they provide billions of dollars of care while balancing jobs, family responsibilities, and expenses. Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system and make it possible for millions of Americans to receive support and services at home rather than in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

Why does caregiving more often than not fall on women? Is caregiving a women’s issue?

The Covid-19 pandemic shined a light on the disproportionate amount of unpaid work women take on at home. Even before the pandemic, women on average gave twice as much in unpaid care – including cooking, cleaning, and looking after family members – compared to men. Caregiving is not solely a women’s issue – but unfortunately, our economy and society has put that burden on women. To go one step further, black, brown, and other women of color are even more likely to fill this caregiving role in their families, which means they take on a disproportionate level of responsibility compared to white women. If we want to achieve economic growth as a nation and advance gender, racial, and ethnic equity, we need to rethink how our policies support – or do not support – workers, parents, and families.

The Caregiver Tax Credit has some weighty bipartisan support. How did the four Senate co-sponsors (Senators Ernst, Bennet, Capito, and Warren) come together? What is it like working together?

Representing a state like Colorado, which is a third Democratic, a third Republican, and a third Independent, I look for every opportunity to solve problems with people on the other side of the aisle. Caregiving is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an issue that affects all of our communities. As Americans get older, the need for family care will increase – and most of us will likely act as a family caregiver or need care at some point in our lifetimes.

That’s why we have been working to get the Caregiver Tax Credit across the finish line for years. This bipartisan legislation will help ease the financial burden so many caregivers in Colorado and across the country face at a time when they need the relief more than ever.

What is the next step in the legislative process for the bill?

I’m working to include the Caregiver Tax Credit in the upcoming budget bill. As a result of the spotlight the pandemic put on caregiving, I believe there’s a real opportunity to get it done this year.

What can the Engage community do to support your work on behalf of caregivers?

There are over 40 million unpaid caregivers in this country who deserve recognition for their contribution to society. I urge your readers to join us in supporting this bill. The credit would help ease the financial burden for millions of unseen and unheard heroes at a time when they need relief more than ever.

Who inspires you on a daily basis?

I’m inspired by the young Americans who are organizing, marching, and doing the hard work in their communities to push for action on climate change. Our federal government has given them no reason to feel optimistic. In fact, we have given them every reason to throw up their hands and say that our politics are too broken and the challenge is too big for their voices to make any difference. Instead, they’re getting organized and engaged. They’re articulating solutions. They’re holding us accountable and putting their hands on the wheel. They give me so much hope for the future of our planet and the future of our democracy – and they inspire me every day to answer their call to act.

If you could have any job in the world for one month, what would it be and why?

I would (attempt to) teach American history at any middle school or high school in Colorado that would have me. I can’t think of a more important or fulfilling job than making sure the next generation of Americans appreciates the deeply imperfect but profoundly inspiring experiment in self-government we have inherited, and how generation after generation has worked to move this country closer to our highest ideals of freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law. America’s example meant so much to my mom and her parents, who came here to rebuild their shattered lives after the Holocaust. For most of my life, it has been a beacon to the world. And it will be up to the next generation to strengthen – and in many cases, repair – America’s example for the 21st century.

What is one thing you have seen, read, or heard that you would recommend to everyone?

David Blight’s biography on Frederick Douglass has been an enduring source of inspiration. Whenever I think I’m having a bad day, or that the obstacles to progress are too great, I remember the example of Frederick Douglass. This is someone born into slavery who, through his own relentless advocacy, saw the end of slavery in his life. I view him as a Founder of this country as much as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. How could he not be?

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