After many years' debate in the state legislature, the Kupuna Caregivers program was launched last week by the Executive Office on Aging.
The program is designed to prevent working people who care for Kupuna from leaving their jobs because of caregiving demands. It can provide up to $70 a day for services that can give caregivers support or a needed break.
What's unfortunate is the legislature approved barely ten percent of what is needed. Instead of the six million dollars requested, only $600,000 was provided. That means only dozens, not hundreds, of families will receive assistance.
It's baffling that lawmakers would approve a new program but not fund it – like putting a beautifully wrapped box under a Christmas tree – with nothing inside.
Hawaii has the oldest and fastest aging population in the nation. We cannot afford to ignore this issue or pretend to address it when we are not.
The Kupuna Caregivers model is getting national attention, even a feature in the New York Times. Hawaii's effort could lead the way in addressing a national problem, but not if we can't find a few million dollars somewhere in the multi-billion dollar state budget.
The next legislature reconvenes next month, and funding Kupuna Care should be an early priority. Otherwise it is just another empty promise.