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Duckworth, Raimondo: Congress must back the president’s historic investment in home care workers

September 24, 2021, 10:50 AM UTC
Home care workers struggle with chronic low pay, few basic workplace protections, and little to no union representation.

The COVID-19 crisis has killed more than 600,000 Americans. Perhaps most cruelly of all, elderly Americans and individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities–many of whom live in congregate settings such as nursing homes and intermediate care facilities–have often suffered the worst harms, both in terms of severe illness, and tragically, higher death rates.

We must honor the memories of our lost loved ones by committing to the work of building a national capability of caring for individuals and communities in need. We also owe it to the frontline workers, who provide vital services and risked their own health in the midst of a deadly pandemic, to build a better America that is ready to protect and support its people when confronted with a public health crisis.

For workers like Paralee, an Illinois home care worker who supports people with disabilities in her community, her work is not just a paycheck–it’s a calling. That is why Paralee spent three days in the hospital with a woman, completely unpaid, because this woman was scared to be alone, and her family could not make the trip.

Despite Paralee’s dedication to her patients, our current system too often fails to provide care for older Americans as well as people with disabilities and it fails to fairly compensate Paralee and other dedicated home care workers for the critical work they do.

Our nation is deep in a caregiving crisis–for both patients and for care workers like Paralee. Ten thousand Americans turn 65 daily, and as of August 2020, 4.7 million Veterans (26%) had a service-connected disability. People increasingly want to remain in their homes, especially as COVID-19 killed scores of Americans that could not afford to move out of a group setting.

This status quo is unacceptable. The President recognizes that we need home care workers more than ever before. However, it’s hard to incentivize anyone to join the caregiving workforce–an occupation plagued by chronic low pay, few basic workplace protections, and little to no union representation.

The bottom line is that if we’re going to build a better home care workforce, we need to expand services and dignity in care work with good pay and union rights. That is why President Biden made strengthening HCBS a pillar of Build Back Better Agenda–calling on Congress to make a significant investment in the care economy infrastructure that will empower every American in need of home and community-based care to secure such critical services.

Senate Democrats took the first step toward achieving this vision by introducing the Better Care Better Jobs Act, which would implement the President’s care plan to make historic investments in Medicaid HCBS, the backbone of our care economy.

This investment would be a win-win for those in need of care and the care workforce. In addition to making sure Americans who chose to receive home-based care can thrive with dignity and respect, the funding would also create and support high-quality jobs. This would provide direct help to many hard-working Americans, especially Black and Latina women who comprise much of this workforce and have been left behind as our country recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.

Supporting home and community-based care and building stronger care systems is good for families, workers, businesses, and for our economy. It will put money in workers’ pockets that will be spent on Main Street, boosting small businesses and spurring new hiring.

Investments in care services will also enable caregivers to reenter the workforce. A July Census survey showed that nearly two million people are unable to work because of the need to take care of an elderly loved one. A 2019 AARP report found that this kind of unpaid care work was worth 2.2% of GDP, or $470 billion in value.

Whether they became injured in combat, have another disability or are entering their twilight years, all people should have access to the services they need in the settings they choose without facing obstacles, such as a lack of means or available providers. Better home care jobs lead to better care since low wages and poor benefits lead to turnover and attrition, leaving those in need without caregivers who have the experience necessary to provide high-quality care.

Realizing President Biden’s vision of building back a better home and community-based care infrastructure would make a real difference in the lives of individuals and families who depend on in-home care. Investing in care is a crucial step toward building a society where we all count and get the support we need.

Listen to the Veterans wounded in combat and live their lives to the fullest with support from home care workers. Listen to the people with disabilities, who have often been put in institutionalized settings because people did not respect their wishes. Listen to the women who kept our country running last year yet still struggle to get by on poverty wages. Listen to women like Paralee, who understand how valuable their work is but don’t see it reflected in how our society values them. The moment is now: it’s time to pass the President’s care plan so we can build back better.

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

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