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Volkema: Political candidates in Arizona ought to prioritize our caregivers

photo of author writing about caregivers
Marsha Volkema
By Marsha Volkema | Point of View

Since frontier days, Arizonans have a history of helping one another.

This trait rings true today, especially when it comes to looking after those in need. The “silver tsunami” is the aging Baby Boomer population — those over age 65. In Arizona, this population is expected to more than double by 2030! This massive demographic shift highlights the need for local and national candidates to prioritize this population at the top of their list.

As both local candidates and presidential hopefuls are beginning to court Grand Canyon State voters ahead of the 2024 elections, it’s the perfect chance for all candidates to promise Arizonans they will prioritize aiding those of us who spend valuable time and resources taking care of loved ones.

Today there are an estimated 850,000 caregivers in the state of Arizona, and that number is only going to increase.

Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona, is home to many caregivers. These caregivers are the backbone of our communities. They quietly serve — sacrificing personal and work time to assist a parent, family member, or loved one with basic daily activities like washing, eating, drinking, and making it to daily appointments in a timely manner.

These efforts take enormous amounts of time. Estimates show that Arizonans spend approximately 800 million hours on caregiving per year. In cities like Phoenix and Mesa, both located in Maricopa County, the challenges of urban caregiving, from transportation to accessing medical facilities, are even more pronounced.

In addition to the physical and emotional toll, caregiving also carries a significant financial burden.

Data shows that in Arizona, the average caregiver spends about $18 an hour taking care of those who need assistance. That comes out to approximately $14.5 billion dollars per year for the entire state spent on providing necessities like groceries, transportation to medical appointments, as well as costly items like prescription drugs, medical bills or devices, and home modifications. This takes a huge financial toll on caregivers, who often spend money from savings to cover these costs. Caregivers need help, and with the 2024 election of national, state, and local leaders on the horizon, candidates who want our vote need to demonstrate they know and care about this issue.

Arizona has always been a major player in presidential elections, and 2024 will be no different.

A winning candidate for the White House won’t succeed without Arizona’s help, and every candidate – from President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, to distant hopefuls like Asa Hutchinson — will need to come to Arizona to make the case to voters about why they should be sent to the White House in 2025.

There’s also a major Senate election on the ballot, and while Senator Kyrsten Sinema hasn’t formally announced she’s running for reelection, she has nonetheless filed paperwork. Meanwhile, Congressman Rubén Gallego has announced that he is running against Sen. Sinema in the Democratic primary. If either the Senator or the Congressman wants to run a meaningful campaign, they’ll need to publicly commit to supporting legislation that will support caregivers.

As a state legislator, I learned early on about this issue. I quickly realized that policies ensuring patients can remain and be cared for safely in their homes were not only compassionate for the patients, but far more cost-effective than placement in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

During my entire time in the legislature, I worked collaboratively with colleagues across the aisle and was proud to champion legislation to fund research and to support caregivers through initiatives such as the Caregivers Tax Credit. With help from federal and state funding initiatives, there are great opportunities for regional solutions — urban and rural — to maintain the quality of life for caregivers and their patients and to keep costs low for taxpayers.

Supporting caregivers is not a partisan issue. Any candidate for president or a state-level office in Arizona needs to champion policies that provide relief for caregivers. Regardless of who wins in 2024, their priority should be making sure that caregivers are no longer left behind.

Implementing common sense policies to keep patients in their homes and maintain their quality of life is a win-win for every candidate at every level.

Editor’s note: Ms. Volkema is a retiree and advocate for caregivers following a long career in customer service and as a paralegal assisting seniors.

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