I believe that those of us who want to move policy reforms to help unpaid caregivers get both better service supports and income supports have a duty to be supportive of all the combined efforts. We have enough going against us at the policy/power levels and don’t need better known advocates trying to quash the projects of lesser known but good advocates.
Unfortunately, I am not seeing the cooperation needed to result in policy change, for example, what happened to me yesterday at a caregiver advocacy talk in NYC. I am a part time caregiver to my 92 year old gradnmother (my aunt is her near full time caregiver) and I am also an activist for Social Agenda, Inc. a women’s think tank and advocacy group. We are working to convert the existing Child Tax Credit (federal) to a Caregiver Tax Credit so that it also benefits caregivers of adults in need. It would mean a beginning—a small refundable income credit for caregivers of adults—$1,000—that over time could be increased by public pressure. A win for caregivers, without question, and worth support by caregivers and our advocates.
Yesterday, November 10th, I went to a talk in New York City for Family Caregivers Month. The speakers were Gail Sheehy, author and AARP Ambassador of Caregiving; and Carol Levine, of United Hospital Fund. I was invited to the meeting by the Women’s City Club of NY, a public policy group who organized the meeting, to give out information and collect signatures to send to the U.S. Senate.
Here is the difference between Gail Sheehy and Carol Levine: On the way out, Gail Sheehy said hello to me and when I asked her to fill out an endorsement sheet for the Caregiver Tax Credit, she enthusiastically did so and said something to the effect of, “oh that’s great”. She signed even though she was rushing out (the meeting had ended very late). When Carol Levine came out, she stood by my table but with her back to me. She clearly was in no hurry as she was there for at least ten minutes talking to an attendee. When I went over and introduced myself (reminding her that we had met several years prior) and asked her to sign so that we can begin to get an income credit for family caregivers, she looked at the sheet, did not look at me, and said dismissively, “I don’t have time for this.” She then proceeded to the elevator without looking back at me. She did not look back at the women who invited her to speak either, nor say thank you to the two members of the Board of Directors of the Women’s City Club (who saw the whole thing), for inviting her.
Notwithstanding whatever Carol Levine may have written, or is writing, about her experiences as a caregiver, yesterday she showed herself to be a false advocate. She is a paid speaker who “doesn’t have time” to get a significant policy win for 44 million caregivers in the form of some income safety net. And she has no respect for the work of other advocates such as myself. Perhaps she thinks that I am insignificant and that a bit of rudeness will not have negative consequences for her. But having worked on this Caregiver Credit for about 6 years now, I believe that I merit to be treated with the same respect she’d like for herself. If she is not going to push for what unpaid caregivers need according to THEM, not her, then she should get the hell out of the way of more realistic committed advocates.
Gail Sheehy on the other hand, really cares and is a true enthusiast and motivator of other activists.Go see her speak, and if you have good ideas, ask her for her support.