Gail Hunt remembers what it was like to care for her aging mother who recently died. She knows the emotional, physical and mental stresses of being a caregiver and also has a keen perspective on caregiving benefits.
As the president and CEO of the National Alliance of Caregiving, Hunt oversees the nonprofit’s dedication to conducting research and developing national programs for family caregivers and the professionals who serve them. Before heading the alliance, Hunt was president of her own aging services consulting firm for 14 years and has hands-on research experience in corporate elder care and caregiver training with AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Although caregiver benefits have existed for decades, Hunt notes that there was increased interest from corporations to offer such coverage before the 2008 recession hit and elder care and child care benefits were cut. Now they are slowly returning, Hunt said, although caregiving usually still receives the short end of the stick financially.
The big thing for family caregivers is some form of financial relief, Hunt said.
“They would like a real financial benefit and we don’t do that with the exception of Medicaid beneficiaries,” she said.
With 18 to 21 percent of the workforce doubling as a caregiver and not getting paid for it, the financial strain is heavy, often causing people to take leave of absences from work or cut back their hours. More organizations are seeing these caregiving needs; they have become just as important as maternity and paternity leave.
One such company is Cigna Corp., the global health service company turning 225 years old this year. To recognize its longevity, the Bloomfield, Connecticut-based company introduced a new employee benefit called the Caregiver Leave Program.
The program gives its U.S. employees up to four weeks of paid leave for employees caring for others including child bonding, care for a seriously ill family member or qualifying military support.
“Employees are always interested in having the ability within really challenging job demands to also have the ability to spend time with their loved ones for various personal reasons,” said John Murabito, executive vice president of HR and services for Cigna.
He sees the program being beneficial to baby boomers and millennials alike. Boomers may use it to care for an aging or sick parent while the younger generation will take advantage of the time to bond with children and take longer maternity leave.
Murabito said the Caregiver Leave Program will benefit Cigna’s workforce “up and down the workforce chain.” When it was announced, he said over 100 employees told the company’s leaders they appreciated the new program letting them devote necessary time to their personal lives.
According to the 2015 “Caregiving in the U.S.” study by National Alliance of Caregiving and AARP, 43.5 million adults provided unpaid elder care, some 60 percent of whom are female. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College recently found that those who provide care devote an average of 77 hours per month, which can take a toll on both the finances and health of the caregiver. It also found that the caregiving burden will likely increase as baby boomers enter their 80s.
Author Howard Gleckman has been involved in the caregiving movement for much of his career. In a January 2017 blog post, he noted the cost to care for an aging parent greatly surpasses raising a child and said this shows the financial burdens of caregivers that need to be recognized on a large scale. Elder care benefits are extremely valuable to employees and will become even more so as each company’s population gets older, he said.