By U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar Minnesota

Minnesota and the nation will soon experience major changes as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age and as more Americans live into their 80s and beyond.

We know seniors want to be able to live independently and stay in their own homes as long as possible. Families, especially adult children, are essential in helping to make this happen.

It is already a big issue for many families, and it will only get bigger.

The number of Minnesotans older than age 65 is expected to double from 2000-30, approaching a quarter of the state's total population.

At the same time, the number of Minnesotans available to care for them will shrink. Although suburban communities will experience the most dramatic changes in the future, the impact is currently most serious in rural Minnesota.

Most senior care comes from informal caregivers. Adult daughters and sons are increasingly responsible for helping their parents with tasks ranging from the mundane (like shopping for groceries and helping with chores around the house) to the more intensive (like managing personal finances and helping to make major health care decisions).

Many caregivers belong to the "sandwich generation." They support their aging parents while also struggling to raise their own children, sandwiched by competing demands for caregiving.

Caregiving can be an overwhelming responsibility for many families. It can be an exhausting and endless job. It does not get easier over time. As a result, many caregivers develop physical and mental health problems.

Caregiving also comes with serious financial costs.

Most caregivers report taking time out of the work force, cutting back on hours and turning down promotion opportunities.

One recent study found women who provide care to an aging parent suffer about $8,600 per year in lost wages and benefits.

Family caregiving also has a significant impact on our economy, costing businesses an estimated $33 billion annually in lost productivity.

For all of these reasons, I am introducing federal legislation to assist our family caregivers.

First, I want to provide financial relief by expanding the existing federal Dependent Care Tax Credit so families can claim tax credits for expenses incurred caring for their aging relatives who do not live with them.

Families will be eligible for up to $1,200 in tax relief per year. While this will by no means cover all elder care expenses, it is a start.

Second, I want to enhance support for family caregivers by promoting best practices in quality, coordinated care and by providing more direct support for family caregivers.

The legislation will establish a National Caregiving Resource Center where families, public agencies and private organizations can learn about best practices and promising innovations.

This legislation will also bolster support for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, which helps fund direct services to family caregivers.

Third, I want to protect consumers and make it easier for families to prepare for their needs by requiring more accountability from the long-term care insurance industry.

About 8 million Americans have bought long-term care insurance to protect themselves and their families.

But one of the biggest complaints is the denial of benefits.

The only recourse for consumers right now is to go to court, which is expensive and time consuming when people are most vulnerable and in need.

My legislation will provide consumers with the right to have their claims reviewed by an independent board.

These proposals represent small steps in addressing the needs of our nation's caregivers. But they are important steps, and I hope more will follow. ...

This approach is good for our seniors, our families and our businesses.

And, because providing care to seniors at home is far less expensive than in a nursing home, it is also good for all of us as taxpayers.

This is the opinion of Amy Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. For information, visit