While political discourse tends to be in the news on a daily basis on the national stage, we can often take for granted that, even in difficult legislative sessions, our local elected officials are able to work together to prioritize shared community needs.

The Kupuna Caregivers Act, passed by the 2017 Legislature and enacted into law by Gov. David Ige, is a true example of how both our state leaders and the people of Hawaii scored a huge win by creating social infrastructure for our future.

In order to help family caregivers, who face the constant challenge of balancing their paying jobs with the work of caring  for aging loved ones, the Kupuna Caregivers program provides up to $70 a day in services aimed at easing the burdens that come with being a working caregiver.

This model seeks to aid, not replace, the cadre of family caregivers who provide millions of hours of unpaid care each year to older adults in Hawaii.

Chair Rosslyn Baker decision against confirming Gorak. 21 april 2017
Sen. Roz Baker, left,  introduced the Kupuna Caregivers bill in the House. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

This first-in-the-nation program has captured the attention of national experts and media, with the New York Times, MSNBC and the Washington Examiner running lengthy pieces on the new initiative.

Local audiences have also responded positively: The Executive Office on Aging, the state agency tasked with enacting the program, has received hundreds of calls from Hawaii’s families wanting to receive the benefit.

The national praise for the program tends to focus on the innovative approach to supporting family caregivers and kupuna, but it is also worth celebrating the strategic coordination from Hawaii’s legislative leaders as a case study in making progressive change.

No Opposition

Introduced by kupuna and health advocates Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. Greg Takayama in their respective chambers, Human Services committee chairs Sen. Josh Green and Rep. Dee Morikawa quickly moved the measure through their committees while sharpening the language and ensuring clear intent of the program.

The legislation even mustered support from the budget guard team of former Senate Ways and Mean Chair Jill Tokuda and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke. Once all was said and done, the bill had not received a single “no” vote in committee or full House and Senate votes.

Rep Gregg Takayama. chad story. 27 april 2017
Rep. Gregg Takayama, center, introduced the Kupuna Caregivers bill in the House. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

The governor proudly signed the bill into law and, just as importantly, quickly released the funds to start to launch the program.

It’s true that the bill funding was not the amount for which advocates had originally asked. Of the $6.6 million dollars requested, only $600,000 was appropriated, which was originally intended for administrative costs.

Proving that government can in fact run lean and efficiently, the Executive Office on Aging invested all those funds into service delivery rather than administrative costs, releasing the program in what must be the fastest launch of a new program in the state and beginning enrollment before 2018.

Our local elected officials are able to work together to prioritize shared community needs.

In a year where the Honolulu rail project seemed destined to demand any available tax dollars, and the crisis regarding Hawaii’s response to homelessness dominated the media cycle, it was a particular accomplishment to establish a new piece of long-term care infrastructure.

To ensure the program helps caregiving families and realizes its potential as a long-term cost-saving program for the state, the Kupuna Caregivers program must be seen as the initial investment, not an end, to creating long-term care infrastructure in Hawaii.

In 2018, legislators will have the opportunity to properly fund the rest of the $6 million required to help hundreds of families across the state. Just as in 2017, the Kupuna Caregivers program is an opportunity to cast a vision of what lawmakers and government in Hawaii can do for the residents of the state.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author