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50+: Live Better, Longer

National 'Caregiving 101' Program Rolls into Action

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"Providing grants to states to provide information and services to family caregivers is of utmost importance," said Helen Hunter, widow of famed baseball pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter and another speaker at the hearing. "It will mean a great deal to those families where being the primary caregiver is not the only job -- but one that must be done no matter what."

Hunter was her husband's informal caregiver; he suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease.

It's a voluntary program for states, which have to pony up 25% of program costs, with the feds picking up the rest. The federal Administration on Aging says that amount of money will provide services to about 250,000 caregivers.

But the program hasn't yet got off the ground. Louisiana, for example, doesn't expect to kick off its initiative until October.

That's got officials frustrated about bureaucracy. Kristin Duke, a Louisiana aging agency official and director of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said her state's proposed guidelines "are more restrictive than we had hoped and allow for little direction from caregivers about preferred services."

Meanwhile, some caregiver advocates say the federal caregiver initiative doesn't do enough.

According to Briceland-Betts, "The program is woefully underfunded." Its budget translates to about $5 in services for every caregiver in the nation, she says.

But Steve Garvey, former baseball star with the L.A. Dodgers, tells WebMD, "It may be $5 per caregiver, but it would be millions of dollars in awareness."

Those eligible for the program include families taking care of the elderly, and older individuals caring for grandchildren or children with disabilities.

On that point, Briceland-Betts worried that some caregivers would be ineligible for the program, such as a spouse caring for a partner who is under the age of 60.

According to Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, "We're anxious to see if we've read the public right" or whether adjustments are needed.

For 2002, the Bush administration has proposed an increase of less than 2% for the program.

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