COLUMBIA — More than 770,000 South Carolinians provide free care for their elderly or disabled loved ones each year, providing 737 million hours of care worth $7.4 billion.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said Wednesday that he wants to give them a break.
The cost to taxpayers would be $3 million.
The Charleston Republican announced a statewide plan Wednesday to bolster the state’s Lifespan Respite Care Program, which offers caregivers $500 vouchers to pay others to care for their loved ones while they take some needed time off.
The plan calls for creating a respite website, recruiting churches to start respite programs, and having college and university students offer respite care for course credit. But the most important change is the extra $3 million approved by House and Senate budget writers to allow caregivers to use the program up to four times a year.
McConnell, who was in the Senate for 31 years before becoming lieutenant governor after Ken Ard resigned last year, said he lobbied his former colleagues hard to get the money in the budget.
The Office on Aging is the only state agency that reports to the lieutenant governor. Last year, after failing to get his budget request for the Office on Aging, McConnell toured nursing homes and aging facilities across the state on his “Faces of Aging Tour.”
“I went out on the ‘Faces of Aging Tour’ and said, ‘Next year, I am coming back with some people power,’ ” he said.
McConnell’s announcement came four days after he announced plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2014.
That election will be the last one when candidates for lieutenant governor will run alone. Starting in 2018, gubernatorial candidates will pick their lieutenant governor running mates, like the president selects his or her vice presidential running mate.
“This lieutenant governor job is a dead end for anybody because it’s going to change at the end, except if you want to go for higher office,” McConnell said Wednesday. “We’re all trying to put together a plan that, hopefully, will last because this lieutenant governor job will disappear as the advocate for the seniors.”
Some lawmakers don’t see the post of lieutenant governor as a “dead-end job,” including state Reps. Bakari Sellers, D-Orangeburg, and Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, both of whom say they are considering running for the job in 2014.
“There is no reason why the lieutenant governor cannot be on the forefront of bringing jobs in this state,” Sellers said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”