Family caregiver support: learn about policy and programmatic solutions developed by state and federal agencies

November 18, 2021

A green arrow indicates how to escape a maze.More than 43 million U.S. adults, 13 percent of Americans, provide unpaid care to family members or friends. These family caregivers administer medical care, run errands, provide transportation, manage finances, and help with household chores, among other activities.

Family caregivers, despite the lack of reimbursement for their efforts, are a significant component of the nation’s long-term care system. In fact, the AARP Public Policy Institute placed the economic value of unpaid caregivers at approximately $470 billion in 2017. For reference, the value of family caregiving in 2017 was nearly $100 billion higher (28 percent) than all out-of-pocket spending on health care in the U.S. ($366 billion). However, despite their significant contributions, family caregivers are often undervalued and under or unsupported within the nation’s long-term care system.


Recent trends have created a growing sense of urgency to find ways to support family caregivers, alleviate their stress, and help care recipients to remain in their homes and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic, especially, has accelerated the demand for home- and community-based services, rather than institutional care. Additionally, over the next several decades the population in need of caregiving is projected to grow faster than the population of caregivers. By 2050, there will be only three potential family caregivers for every person age 80 or older. In 2010, the ratio was seven potential caregivers to every person age 80 or older.

Seniors that don’t have a family caregiver to rely on are seven times more likely to be in skilled nursing care, which costs $100,000 per year on average. This shift is creating a greater need not only for more caregivers, but for more caregiver support to enable caregivers to continue their work.


To address this issue, several state and federal policymakers have proposed or introduced solutions to enhance caregiver supports. These policies consider the factors that contribute to new and existing caregiver challenges, are inclusive of the different kinds of relationships that exist between caregiver and care recipients, and would support many caregivers. This brief reviews six different state and federal policy options to support family caregivers in the U.S.

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