Michigan Gov. Whitmer proposes a caregiver tax credit − an idea many Americans support

People caring for elderly or disabled relatives need a break – and, in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a proposal to give them one.


  • Sarah E. Patterson

    Research Investigator at the Survey Research Center at the Institute of Social Research, University of Michigan

  • Adriana Reyes

    Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Cornell University

Whitmer’s recently proposed $5,000 tax credit, the Caring for MI Family Tax Credit, is part of a growing trend of public subsidies for families shouldering the responsibilities of caring for family members.

Americans strongly endorse the idea that families, not the government or other organizations, are responsible for providing care for family members. They especially endorse adult children providing care for their aging parents.

That may help explain why family members are the main and sometimes only caregivers for older adults and others with long-term care needs in the United States.

We are researchers who study families and caregiving. Our recent study finds that when given a choice between family, government or other care providers, many Americans think family should provide care but the government should pay for it.

Caregiving costs can be substantial. On average, a caregiver in Michigan can expect to spend over $7,000 out of pocket per year. One study estimates the cost of care for a person with dementia are even higher, ranging from $3,000 to $17,000, depending on the severity of the disease. Another estimate that accounts for the total impact of caregiving, including costs such as lost wages and the impact on caregiver’s health, puts the personal expense of caring for a loved one at roughly $90,000 a year.

Despite this steep price, few federal governmental programs address caregivers’ financial burdens.

In response, states have begun to pass their own policies, like paid leave in states such as California, Washington and Massachusetts, and, increasingly, tax credit policies like Whitmer’s proposal in Michigan.

Helping to offset, reduce costs

Currently, six states – Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and New Jersey – offer a tax credit to offset the costs of caregiving.

The credit can be used to cover home modifications such as ramps or bathroom grab bars, assistive devices such as a cane or walker, or to pay a professional care worker.

Whitmer’s proposal is generous compared with other states. For example, Georgia’s caregiving tax credit reimburses up to 10% of costs, with a cap of $150.

A needed break

The proposed Michigan tax credit would support counseling, transportation and nursing or respite services that pay a caregiver to come help so the family caregiver can have a break.

These types of services delay transitions into nursing homes, which helps keep costs down for Medicaid and individual monthly out-of-pocket spending.

Respite care use has become more common over the past two decades, especially among families providing care for older adults with dementia. However, many caregivers are unable to access these services. One barrier is the cost, which averages $29 per hour.

Public support for caregivers increasing

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans want Medicare, the federal program that provides health care to people over 65, to help cover the cost of long-term care.

In terms of what supports should be made available to caregivers, tax credits receive the greatest public support relative to other programs, such as unpaid time off.

A recent AARP study of registered voters ages 50 and older found 8 in 10 people support a $5,000 annual caregiver tax credit. Another study of voters of all ages found similar support for expanding the earned income tax credit to include family caregivers.

Evidence suggests that tax credits implemented in Arizona and Idaho in a three-year test of the program in the early 1980s had the desired effect – more care by family members and a reduced use of formal care. Paid leave in California is also associated with a reduction in nursing home usage.

The benefit of the Caring for MI Family Tax Credit will depend in large part on the details and design of the policy. A refundable tax credit will provide greatest benefit to low-income households.

A similar federal bill, the Credit for Caring Act, has been introduced in Congress. If passed, the legislation would provide a federal tax credit for working family caregivers to cover 30% of expenses incurred above $2,000.

And other states such as California are also considering introducing tax credits to help offset the cost of caregiving.

The population of Americans over 65 is increasing, meaning more people will need caregiving in the near future.

The introduction of these bills reflects Americans’ growing support for new solutions to defray the costs associated with providing care to a loved one.

The Conversation

Sarah E. Patterson receives funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). She volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association in Michigan.

Ariana Reyes receives funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

/Courtesy of The Conversation. View in full here.