HARRISBURG — A state program that provides services and benefits to primary caregivers assisting the elderly is not being used as widely as it could, state Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne said this week.
Osborne stressed the importance to lawmakers of the Caregiver Support Program to benefit those primarily responsible for assisting dependent adults aged 60 and over and adults with chronic dementia in their own homes. The caregiver program is part of an effort by the department to help seniors remain in their homes rather than resorting to more expensive care in a nursing home.
“Most folks would rather live in the community with supports,” Osborne said.
The aging department is looking for ways to increase awareness and make use of the caregiver program, said Osborne. The issues being explored are whether caregivers face barriers to enrolling, how need assessments are done and how to partner with the United Way and other organizations to promote the program, she added.
The program reimburses caregivers for certain out-of-pocket expenses up to a maximum of $500 a month and provides one-time grants up to $2,000 for home modifications such as ramps, grab bars and chair lifts.
The allowed expenses include respite care, supplies, support services and transportation. Local area agencies on aging run the program.
The first step is a comprehensive needs assessment to determine what benefits meet the needs of the caregiver and person receiving care. Eligibility for the program is based on income guidelines.
The program has 78 participants under the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging and 162 participants under the Area Agency on Aging in Luzerne and Wyoming counties, according to the aging department. The program amount budgeted for those agencies in the current fiscal year is $434,000 and $606,000, respectively.
Pennsylvania enacted a law in 2011 to broaden the program’s scope and make it less restrictive by allowing primary caregivers who aren’t relatives to receive benefits and no longer requiring that caregivers have to live with the senior.
The aging department’s budget provides $12 million in state Lottery funds for the program. An additional $10 million comes to Pennsylvania through a companion program at the federal level.
A Scranton native, Osborne held executive positions with aging agencies in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties before her appointment as aging secretary last year.