Information and resources that support your role in caring for a loved one.

Family caregivers sacrifice a lot to take care of their loved ones.

Some Washington lawmakers think there’s at least one thing they shouldn’t have to give up, and that’s the Social Security income they would have received in retirement had they not taken time off from work to serve as caregivers.

Before Congress broke for its extended August break earlier this week, Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY 17) introduced the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2014.

Lowey’s press release announcing the bill noted that the proposal would create a credit that would be added to earnings that the Social Security Administration would use to calculate future benefits. Social Security benefits are calculated based on the highest 35 years of indexed earnings that person made while in the workforce. But caregivers who cut back their hours or stop working altogether to care for a loved one face receiving lower benefits because of those reduced earnings.

MetLife study in 2011 estimated that male caregivers who leave the workforce or reduce hours because of caregiving responsibilities lose an average of $283,716 in wages, pensions and Social Security benefits, with the Social Security benefits accounting for $144,609 of that total. For women, the overall loss in wages, pensions and benefits is even higher at $324,044, with $131,351 lost in projected Social Security benefits.

Lowey’s bill would address some of that shortcoming by granting caregivers a progressive credit on an income-based sliding scale for up to 60 months of time spent caring for a dependent relative. The credit is worth half of average national wage and is phased out when the caregiver makes more than the national average. For example, the 2012 national average was approximately $44,000, so a caregiver who did not work at all would receive a credit of around $22,000 for that year. The amount is reduced for part-time workers based on their earnings, and caregivers need to spend at least 80 hours a month providing unpaid care for a dependent relative to qualify. The credits accessed are then used by the Social Security Administration to calculate future benefits.

Lowey introduced the bill in the House of Representatives on July 8, and it was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. This is the seventh time Lowey has introduced legislation like this. The previous six efforts, in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 all died in committee without even earning a vote from the full House.

With the current Republican-controlled House on track to be the least productive in history in terms of number of the bills signed into law, the chances for the latest version of the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act becoming law don’t look too promising. But there are some signs for optimism.

Lowey landed 33 co-sponsors for this year’s bill, more than any previous edition. In fact, the 2006, 2007 and 2011 bills didn’t have any co-sponsors, and the 2009 version had just one. With the tide turning ever so slowly against the calls to cut Social Security through such means as adopting chained CPI to lower cost of living adjustments for benefits, the need to strengthen Social Security is gaining steam.

In addition to Lowey’s bill, seven other bills to strengthen or expand Social Security benefits have been introduced during this Congressional session. All are longshots to be enacted, or even get a full floor vote, but they have shifted the debate over Social Security’s future from arguing whether to cut benefits by a little or a lot to bringing the possibility of maintaining and even expanding benefits into the discussion.

That’s progress. Getting some of these bills passed and signed into law would be an even bigger step in the right direction for older adults and caregivers throughout America.

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