How about a Peace Corps for caregivers?

The numbers are simply staggering. People 85 and older – who usually have multiple chronic illnesses or have difficulty performing some daily tasks – will mushroom to 14.6 million in 2040, up from about 6 million now. So who is going to take care of these seniors?

Right now, since Medicare does not pay for long-term care services or non-medical services in the home, there are 3.3 million paid personal care and home health aides and more than 34 million unpaid family caregivers doing that job.

Already, around the U.S., many caregivers, senior groups and other community activists have joined to form the “Village to Village” network, pulling together local volunteers in more than 240 communities with 100 more in development, in 41 states so far. They provide access to services that support the seniors’ goals of remaining at home as long as possible. Another group, Seniors Corps, run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, also does similar work in many communities using volunteers age 55 and older to visit needy seniors and help them with shopping, paying bills and other things,

The Administration for Community Living, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, wants to take that idea and go further – to establish a national volunteer care corps. They recently awarded $3.8 million annually for five years to the Oasis Institute, which runs the nation’s largest volunteer intergenerational tutoring program, in partnership with the Caregiver Action Network, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the Altarum Institute, which works to improve care for vulnerable older adults. The money is to help develop this idea. A total of $19 million is expected to be put toward the concept over the five years, the ACL said.

As the Village to Village networks do in communities across the U.S., the idea is for volunteers to take seniors to medical appointments, shop for groceries, shovel snowy sidewalks, or help with simple housecleaning, cooking – or just sit and visit a few times a week. This could give family caregivers needed breaks, provide companionship for lonely seniors and provide some relief from social isolation. Young volunteers might get class credits at a community college or even small stipends for helping out.

The need is obvious, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which researches numbers like this, say that more than 1.2 million new, paid jobs of this kind will be needed by 2028. Filling them will be hard, especially since they are low paid, often difficult work conditions with high turnover, and limited opportunities for professional advancement.

This domestic Peace Corps for caregiving is not a new one. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have introduced the idea for demonstration projects for several years, but the measure has not gotten anywhere. Now, with the federal government’s funding this fall, organizations will be urged to submit proposals to serve “non-medical” needs of older adults and younger adults with disabilities. Next spring, up to 30 groups will get 18-month grants between $30,000 to $250,000, to develop innovative, effective programs that could help seniors and that can be replicated in multiple locations, according to the Oasis Institute.