Fresh off the red carpet at the Emmys, Seth Rogen marched across the Capitol’s marble floors Wednesday with a mission far removed from award season glamour: helping families care for Alzheimer’s patients.
“Aging is a natural thing,” Rogen said. “You shouldn’t have to be rich to navigate it.”
The actor and comedian came at Sen. Bob Casey’s invite along with his wife, screenwriter and director Lauren Miller Rogen. They were joined by actress Sarah Rafferty for a short panel discussion moderated by National Domestic Workers Alliance President Ai-jen Poo on the steep financial and psychological costs of caring for a loved one with dementia.
The celebrities lent their fame to the Pennsylvania Democrat in support of his bill aimed at increasing Medicaid funding for home health aides.
It’s an issue Rogen knows intimately. Best known for his roles in “Knocked Up,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” and “Neighbors,” Rogen testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee about dementia’s toll in 2014, describing the difficulty he and his wife faced caring for her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. Rogen joked then that the issue inspired the comedian to abandon his stoned slacker persona to create a nonprofit and travel to Washington to lobby Congress.
Eight years later, Rogen traded humor for sincerity.
“If the average person is having to deal with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it destroys their family,” said Rogen. “There’s no way to deal with it — it’s impossible to deal with effectively. We found the only way to deal with it effectively was to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on it.”
“We were in a fortunate position where, when the time was needed, we could afford care,” Miller Rogen added. “But that’s obviously so far from reality for the millions of family caregivers who are out there.”
The couple’s nonprofit, Hilarity for Charity, raised $2.2 million last year, supporting families caring for a loved one with dementia with relief grants for home health aides and money for Alzheimer’s research. But the few hundred grants their organization provides pales in comparison to the 820,000 families on wait lists to receive support through Medicaid.
Casey’s proposal would provide states with a 10 percent bump in federal assistance for home and community-based services, along with $100 million in grants to develop plans for increasing the number of home health aides.
It’s no surprise that there aren’t enough home aides, given the intense emotional and physical demands of a job that pays only $12 per hour on average, said Rogen.
“It’s not like some mystery that is impossible to figure out,” he said. “It just isn’t enough money to put yourself through [all] that for — it’s too hard.”
The bill has 39 co-sponsors, and Casey expects it would have unanimous support from his caucus if it came up for a vote. “It’s the others that we got to work on,” he said.
Casey argued that the bill shouldn’t be partisan, noting that all 50 states accepted federal funds for home aides included in a coronavirus relief law that Democrats passed over unanimous GOP opposition last March. Still, Casey conceded his bill was unlikely to find its way onto must-pass legislation this year.
He also said that out of the 820,000 families on the waiting list for home and community-based services, two-thirds came from Texas, Louisiana and Florida. “They’re not blue states,” he added.
Rogen expressed shock that the issue split down party lines. “It is physically impossible for someone to take care of someone with dementia on their own if they are aging. That’s not a Democrat or Republican thing,” he said. “I didn’t realize what a roadblock there was across party lines for this issue.”
The celebrities said they didn’t have any plans to lobby Republicans on the issue Wednesday, but said they were eager to. “Get me in a room with a bunch of Republicans and let’s talk about that,” said Rogen. “Maybe this is the one thing we agree on: that you need much more help than is currently available when caring for an aging loved one.”
Besides, Rogen said, he knew that his group provided grants to Republicans — “lots of them” — even though the application doesn’t ask about party affiliation. He’s met many of the recipients. “They don’t like my films, y’know?”