Popular subsidies for kupuna caregivers set to be greatly restricted

Popular subsidies for kupuna caregivers set to be greatly restricted

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A major change to a financial assistance program designed to help those caring for Hawaii's senior citizens is upsetting some caregivers.

Under the current program, people who work at least 30 hours a week while taking care of a senior may be eligible to receive subsidies of up to $70 a day five days a week for services such as adult day care. But lawmakers now want to limit the value of subsidies issued for each participant to just $70 per week. The funds are paid directly to contracted service providers.

Critics of the change to the Kupuna Caregivers Program say it will greatly undermine its utility, which was aimed at helping caregivers remain in the workforce and heralded as a model for the nation.

But legislators say the pilot program was never meant to be a daily subsidy, just a way to give caregivers a little respite each week.

The change comes as lawmakers are also doubling funding for the program in the upcoming year to $1.2 million.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said the additional funding and the new limits on the program will mean that ten times as many people will be able to get help.

Luke said in the first year of the program, some $600,000 in funds covered day care funding for about 90 recipients.

"We're a little troubled" by those figures, Luke said. "To serve only 90 people, that's not the best approach."

But others say the change will mean caregivers who work won't get the help they need.

"To drop it down to only paying for one day, that's not going to help the caregivers stay in the workforce," said Kathy Wyatt, president of Hale Hauoli Hawaii, which provides adult day care services. "That just defeats the whole purpose of the program."

Iris Yafuso-Toguchi sends her elderly mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, to Hale Hauoli Hawaii five days a week. The Aiea family recently qualified for the program, but Yafuso-Toguchi was disappointed to hear about the change.

"Knowing that it's only one day, I'm not trying to sound greedy, but I'm just like 'oh, shoot.' I think it's heart-wrenching. It's sad that it had to be that way," she said.

The funding for the program is in the state budget, which still needs to be approved by the governor.

"We want the Executive Office on Aging to look at other things like Kupuna Care planning, home chore services, a whole range of meal services or transportation services," said state Rep. Della Au Belatti (D-Makiki, McCully).

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