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Arizona set aside $1M to reimburse family caregivers. $871K is still unspent

Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

In 2020, Arizona launched what officials are calling the first in the nation reimbursement program for caregivers. It was extended to last through 2024, with $1 million available to reimburse eligible applicants. 

But so far, officials say the Family Caregiver Reimbursement Program has only given out about 13% of that money.  

The Arizona Legislature allocated the money to the state Department of Economic Security, which would then work with organizations like the Arizona Caregiver Coalition, and AARP Arizona, to either facilitate the program or get the word out. 

Dana Marie Kennedy, the state director of AARP Arizona, says through talking with caregivers, and seeing what is most often searched on the organization’s website, it was clear being a caregiver could be a financial burden.

But Kennedy says once the program was created, it ran into a problem. 

“We kicked it off, and then COVID happened. And so I think that we're still kind of living in this phase of not being able to be out in the community and educating people,” Kennedy said. 

So, what is this program? 

Lita Nelson is with DES and is the state program coordinator for the family caregiver support program. 

She says this pilot program is open to caregivers of individuals who suffer short term or long-term debilitating conditions. 

“And it's not just open to older adults, it can be any adult child that is living with a disability, even grandchildren,” Nelson said.

What it offers eligible applicants is a 50% reimbursement, up to a $1,000 cap, on home modification or assistive technology purchases. 

Jutta Ulrich, the executive director of the Arizona Caregiver Coalition, says a caregiver can apply multiple times, for multiple projects, until that $1,000 cap is hit. 

“So they might apply the first time saying: ‘maybe we've spent $700 on a bathroom modification, can we request $350 back?’” Ulrich said. “And then if that is approved, we have a record of that, and then maybe six months or even a year later they say ‘well now we had to buy maybe some dentures or a hearing aid, or maybe a special wheelchair,’ OK, then they can just reapply and request the additional funds until they reach the cap of $1,000.” 

To be eligible, applicants, and their qualified family members, must have a combined income of $75,000 a year or less. A larger cap exists for couples. Other paperwork includes proof that a caregiver is needed in the first place. Also needed — receipts.

“If you need to buy something, whether it's maybe a bedside table, or a special bed,” Ulrich said, “... if you're planning any of these things, please keep your receipts.”

Ulrich says common mistakes are caregivers handing over order confirmations instead. She says they need “to be able to link a payment to a product or service.” She says they do accept credit card statements and handwritten receipts. 

Some nuances of the program involve what Nelson calls “sandwich caregivers,” or people who care for more than one person. You can apply for up to two people on one application.

And, Nelson says, that $1,000 cap for reimbursement is per qualified family member. Once a caregiver has reached the monetary cap, they cannot apply again for three years. But the program’s future is unclear.

Kennedy with AARP Arizona says a stipulation of this pilot program is they must prove that it ultimately saves the state money.

“We do hope that we show that we are keeping people at home, we're saving the state money by delaying them being in an institution or the state having to pay for other care to keep them in their own home and keep them independent,” Kennedy said.

Until then, this pilot program is set to end in 2024. DES spokesperson Brett Bezio says about $871,000 is left.

More information about the Family Caregiver Reimbursement Program, and how to apply, can be found on the Arizona Caregiver Coalition website, where they also have a FAQ list

Contact the coalition through email:  [email protected] or [email protected] or by phone at 888-737-7494.

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Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.