Our kupuna are cherished resources — sources of deep ike (knowledge) who can lighten the path we young people must take in life. They are our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and we love them deeply.

Many of us have parents, uncles and aunties, cousins or siblings who, on top of working full-time or attending college, care for their aging relatives. Still other millennials care directly for their kupuna because their parents or relatives cannot. Young adults struggle to support not only themselves, but also their kupuna, in an economic period of depression and hardship in which working families are squeezed from all sides.

We have first-hand experience dealing with this issue. A board member of the Young Progressives Demanding Action — Hawaii attends the culinary program at Kapiolani Community College while working a food service industry job to support herself. She also cares for her aging grandmother, who is quickly approaching her centennial.

FACE supporters SB2478 relating to long term care sit in Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health meeting chaired by Sen Ros Baker.
Supporters of legislation relating to long-term care at a legislative hearing in 2016. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Still as sharp as a tack, this wonderful lady is, nonetheless, physically limited in her ability to care for herself. This KCC student has also cared for an aging family friend, going so far as to move in to the home of the elderly couple to help the wife take care of her husband as Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of his awareness and competency.

This trying ordeal took its tole on the 19-year-old who suddenly found her life consumed with the care-taking of another. The strength and patience and determination to help that she exhibited during this time is demonstrative of the best the millennial generation has to offer.

A National Problem

Last session, I presented this story at a rally in support of establishing the Kupuna Care Fund and the Executive Office of Aging. I was not the only speaker, and I realized that her story, while heart-wrenching, is far from an isolated narrative. Rather, it is just one among thousands of similar stories from families all across our state, and from across the country.

In Hawaii, approximately 247,000 people serve as family caregivers. Across the United States, there are some 4 million home-care workers and caregivers providing professional elder care, and some 52 million family care-givers: people who are providing up to 20 hours a week of care for their family members on top of full-time jobs and other commitments.

This is a huge number of people dealing with the pressures of working and holding down a job to support their family while also taking care of aging loved ones. Managing that pressure is one of the primary pain-points that working families in this country are dealing with today.

In Hawaii, approximately 247,000 people serve as family caregivers. 

At the same time, millennials are entering their 30s and having children. There are 4 million babies being born every year with virtually no childcare infrastructure either to support these new families. The result is a sandwiching effect on the millennial generation, whereby working age adults are being pressured from both sides by the demands of childcare and elder care with no infrastructure or support.

This is a national problem we must address, and Hawaii has an opportunity — and an imperative need — to take the lead on finding compassionate, effective solutions. Because Hawaii is a state that is aging quickly. By 2020, there will be 300,000 people over the age of 65 here in Hawaii.

Every day 10,000 people turn 65 in America; every eight seconds someone turns 65. That’s 4 million people per year turning 65. And because of advances in healthcare and medicine, people are living longer than ever before.

This is, potentially, a great opportunity: The ability to live longer also means the ability to connect with your family longer, to work longer, to learn, to teach, to contribute, to love. There are all these opportunities that come with longer life-expectancies, but we can only capitalize on them if we have the right infrastructure in place to take care of people, and to make sure they have what they need to live healthy lives.

Every day 10,000 people turn 65 in America; every eight seconds someone turns 65.

When we think of infrastructure, we think of roads and bridges and pipes and fiberoptic cables. But, in the 21st century when 75 percent of children are growing up in households where all of the adults are working outside the home, we actually need a whole new infrastructure to support people while they care for their families.

The law that established the Kupuna Caregivers Fund is a groundbreaking piece of legislation — the first of its kind in the country. Our state is the first state to invest in the caregiving infrastructure; to invest in the ability of working families to keep their loved ones at home instead of putting them in institutions, and insuring that the workforce that is helping to support that is fairly compensated. It is an investment in both the workers and the families.

We should be proud. But there is more that must be done.

Senate Bill 2988, which has a hearing Monday afternoon at the state Capitol, would appropriate $4 million for the full implementation and sustainability of the Kupuna Caregivers Program.

The bill also requires the Executive Office on Aging to submit a report to the Legislature prior to each regular session that details program outcomes.

It is more than appropriate that Hawaii be the first place to do this. There is a tradition in these islands of caring for our elders; it is a part of the culture and it is something that the rest of the country must learn from if we hope to create the solutions we need given the increasingly massive demand for elder care that we will experience in the future. If we continue to treat our elders as disposable and invisible, we will fail that impending test.

Because Hawaii already embraces this concept culturally, we have a real opportunity to create the breakthrough precedent of investment in this infrastructure that we need for the idea to be pushed through nationally. It’s time for Hawaii to step into its natural role as a leading state on the issue of elder care, family care and investment in working families. That’s what this campaign is all about. It’s about the value of caregiving.

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