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In a moment when our entire care system — from the Affordable Care Act to Medicaid to Medicare to the basic provisions of employer-based health care — is under sustained and devastating attack, Hawai’i is giving us a reason to hope and celebrate.

On May 3, the state put itself on the brink of being the first state ever to invest directly in supporting its family caregivers. Both chambers of the state legislature passed a bill that puts Hawaiʻi in the forefront of addressing the realities of 21st century working families struggling to manage and afford care for their loved ones.

Hawaiʻi’s Kupuna Caregiver Assistance Program (KCAP) shows what it can look like when we join together and raise our voices to demand investments in creating the care we need. (“Kupuna” is a Hawaiian word widely understood to mean elder or grandparent.)

If signed by the Governor, the KCAP will provide assistance to family caregivers to be able to pay for respite care, or a home care worker to come and take a loved one to the doctor — so they won’t have to miss work, up to $70 per day. Update: The governor of Hawai’i signed the legislation on July 6, 2017.

This is a significant victory not just because it gets us a step closer to the 21st century care infrastructure we need, but because getting anything passed this legislative session was going to be a heavy lift. The state’s budget was almost $160 million less than originally proposed, so any new investments of public money faced a difficult path.

That the bill received unanimous support in every committee hearing is a testament to the work done by caregivers and activists living in Hawaiʻi. The outcome was far from guaranteed: a number of key legislators expressed reservations about the ability to fund this investment, and stakeholders tussled over legislative details. Our Care for Our Kupuna campaign employed a range of inside and outside tactics that showcased to elected officials exactly how important this investment would be to family caregivers in the Aloha State.

Highlights from the campaign include:

  • Submitting organizational and grassroots testimony to each and every committee hearing, with the submitted legislation in the key Finance and Ways and Means hearings stacking up to be more than an inch thick;
  • Generating more than 60 media hits in Hawaiʻi in four months, including an op-ed by Caring Across Co-Director Ai-jen Poo and a Star-Advertiser (Hawaiʻi’s largest newspaper) editorial board endorsement of the bill;
  • Numerous public events in support of the legislation, including an opening rally with more than 100 people held at the state Capitol;
  • Building a highly-engaged engaged email list of more than 1000 people in Hawaiʻi who care about caregiving issues, contacting them weekly throughout the legislative session to ask them to attend events and contact their local elected officials, which contributed to the turnout and testimony milestones noted above;
  • Working in coalition with a range of allies, including AARP Hawaiʻi and Local 5 (both of whom sent members to hearings and public events), creating a sign-on letter for national allies, and earning the support of the Kupuna Caucus.

This first-of-its-kind investment is still awaiting the governor’s signature, and the national Caring Across Generations campaign is organizing a petition to allow people across the country to add their voice to those in Hawaiʻi urging him to turn this promise into reality. Together we can take this historic step in creating the care we need.

Originally published by Caring Across Generations.

Josephine F. Kalipeni is the Director of Policy & Partnerships for Caring Across Generations.

 

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