Home Help is one of a handful of programs that provides compensation to caregivers of Michigan residents who otherwise would need residential nursing care, adult foster care, or placement in a home for the aged. Such assistance can serve as a buffer against the very real financial burdens facing family caregivers in Michigan.
“We are currently exploring ways to promote the program so more people know this resource exists,” said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which has administered the program since the 1980s.
If you have Medicaid and require physical assistance with at least one “activity of daily living,” such as eating, bathing, dressing, moving around the house, using the toilet, or another designated task, you can apply for Home Help to fund your home caregiver in providing those services. However, Home Help funding cannot be paid to a spouse, a parent caring for a minor child, a minor 17 or younger, or a fiscal intermediary.
Other services Home Help may cover include administering medicine, doing laundry, light housework, preparing meals, shopping for food and medical necessities. It may also cover more complex tasks, including tube feeding, catheter care and respiratory treatment, for which the home provider will need formal training. Go to www.Michigan.gov/homehelp for a list of additional eligible services, allowable hour limits, and information on how to apply.
In July, Home Help listed some 30,100 individual providers on its rolls, said Sutfin. Home Help also funds qualifying in-home services from 833 agency providers and in total, these providers cared for a combined 60,820 people in July.
“Research has shown that people are happier living in the community,” Sutfin said. “As a fee-for-service program, there are no waiting lists. If someone is eligible, services are provided.”
Thanks to Home Help, nearly 61,000 Michiganians are receiving paid services, mostly from family caregivers, to help them stay at home. Yet, this is arguably a modest share of those needing assistance in a state with 1.2 million family caregivers who provide an estimated $1.1 billion in unpaid care annually, according to the AARP.
The ceiling for Medicaid eligibility may be a limiting factor for Home Help eligibility, many say. To qualify in Michigan this year, you must have a monthly individual income of $1,215 or less. For nursing home eligible seniors, the amount is $2,742, including Social Security, wages and pension, to be eligible for the MI Choice or PACE home waiver program. Additional assets must be valued at or less than $2,000.
These numbers could vary depending on your circumstances, so it’s best to go to the Home Help page at www.Michigan.gov to learn more, or to contact your local MDHHS office.
“Like many other industries in the U.S., Home Help struggles to find enough caregivers,” Sutfin said. “Although 85 percent of individual caregivers are family members, the remaining 15 percent are made up of family friends or people they know in the community.”
Finally, “the Home Help (pay) rate is lower than many other programs, making it difficult for clients to recruit new providers,” she said. In October, wages for Home Help providers increased to between $13.30 and $14.20 an hour.
“I am sure conversations are happening with the Medicare Advantage plans,” said Kristie King, executive director of the Southeast Michigan Senior Regional Collaborative which represents more than 40 organizations and agencies that service and champion older adults, persons with disabilities, and caregivers. “It would be important to consider how to best pair these programs," which could allow more flexibility in caregiver support.
Earlier this year, the SRC launched its “Change the Care Conversation Coalition,” a rapidly expanding caregiver alliance kindled with startup funds from the multi-state Grantmakers in Aging organization. “We are elevating the voice of the family caregiver, who knows what is needed and best for them,” King said. “This is the future of care for our Michigan seniors.”
If you are a caregiver or someone needing assistance, go to www.Michigan.gov/homehelp or reach the Adult Services unit at your county MDHHS office at www.Michigan.com/contact-MDHHS. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information on other programs that may be able to help, including the My Choice Waiver, or for referral to individual condition-specific organizations. PACE Southeast Michigan, which offers participant caregiver respite, can be reached at www.pacesemi.org. The Veterans Administration also offers programs for caregiver support at www.caregiver.va.
This story was produced through the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations and universities dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about successful responses to social problems. The group is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.