Federal health officials are putting forth a national strategy to address the needs of family caregivers, acknowledging the challenges faced by millions who care for people with developmental disabilities and other issues.

The first-of-its-kind plan details 345 actions that 15 government agencies will take in the next three years as well as over 150 actions that can be undertaken by states, communities and other stakeholders.

“Supporting family caregivers is an urgent public health issue, exacerbated by the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “This national strategy recognizes the critical role family caregivers play in a loved one’s life.”

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There are estimated to be some 53 million family caregivers in the U.S. supporting those with developmental disabilities, individuals who are aging and others. They “provide the overwhelming majority of long-term care” in this country and, if replaced by paid caregivers, their services would cost an estimated $470 billion annually, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Without support, family caregivers can compromise their own health, wellbeing and quality of life, officials note. In addition, caregiving responsibilities result in an estimated $522 billion annually in lost income for families.

The national strategy released by HHS’ Administration for Community Living this week was developed by the agency’s RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council and Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council during a six-month process with input from family caregivers, those they support and over 150 stakeholder organizations across the country. It marks the first time that multiple government agencies have worked together with the private sector to address the needs of family caregivers.

The plan is centered around five main goals: increasing awareness and outreach, building partnerships and engagement with family caregivers, strengthening services and supports, ensuring financial and workplace security and enhancing data, research and evidence-based practices.

“Family caregivers play a vital role in supporting people with disabilities and older adults so they can live and thrive in their own homes and communities, and it is time that we take action to champion them,” said Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “The National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers is a concrete step toward making the right to community living a reality for all people, in keeping with federal law and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision.”

The national strategy will be up for public comment for 60 days starting Oct. 1. Going forward, it will be updated every two years.

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