This article originally appeared in KITV on June 21, 2018.

Better Life Lab | Slate

By Diane Ako


A state program meant to give full time caregivers some financial help may be suffering some setbacks. The Kupuna Caregivers Program initially paid up to $70 a day for five days a week for some services. Now, it may be cutting that back to just one day a week. 

Waipio Gentry resident Dwight Inokuma takes care of his mother Jane, who has dementia. Five days a week, he brings her to and from Hale Hauoli Hawaii adult day care. "I love my mom very much. That's why I keep her at home. I just want to keep her happy," he says.

After almost two years of care, Jane's savings ran out. Dwight now pays for her. "I don't mind using my retirement account to keep her at home because she's happier over there," says Dwight.

That's why Inokuma is thrilled about the state's Kupuna Care Act. Through it, the state pays for Jane's day care. 

AARP Hawaii's Communications Director Craig Gima explains, "The Kupuna Care Act is aimed at working caregivers to keep them in the workplace. It sets up a modest program to help people with services like senior respite, senior day care, meals, transportation."?

A last-minute, little-known proviso in House Bill 1900 cuts back funding by 80%. It reads:

"SECTION 16.1  Provided that of the general fund appropriation for executive office on aging (HTH904), the sum of $1,200,000 or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2018-2019 shall be expended for the kupuna caregivers program; provided further that the executive office on aging shall limit the benefits for each qualified recipient to once per week."

Gima says, "That would basically limit services to once a week. That creates a problem. People's needs are different."

The fiscal year starts July 1, 2018. We asked the Governor's office how it would respond to the proviso. We were told exactly this: "The Kupuna Caregiver program was created by the legislature in the Hawaii Revised Statutes. The Hawaii State Constitution requires that amendments to HRS must be made through a bill that embraces that specific topic -- the budget bill relates to general appropriations and cannot be used to change specific statutes.

Section 14.  No law shall be passed except by bill.  Each law shall embrace but one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.  The enacting clause of each law shall be, "Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of Hawaii." [Ren Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]"

Caring Across Generations, a national coalition of caregivers, wrote to the Governor's office saying, "The restrictive nature of the proviso, despite its good intention, would fundamentally disrupt the goal of the program. Providing a $70 benefit once a week is simply not substantial enough to allow working family caregivers to remain in the workforce and provide care for an aging parent."

Inokuma says day care is expensive. "Maybe a thousand something a month," he guesstimates.

He's already tightened up his budget. "I kind of cut a lot of things like my cell phone," he says, meaning, he switched to a cheaper plan. 

Even if Kupuna Caregivers Program pays for less this fiscal year, caregivers and elder advocates are still grateful. "It's only $70 a week, but that still helps out," says Inokuma.

Gima agrees. "We're the first state in the country to try this. The Legislature needs to be applauded for doing this."