As the future of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda hangs in the balance, over 35,000 care workers joined a telephone town hall hosted by the Service Employees International Union and National Domestic Workers Alliance to demand Congress recognize that care can’t wait any longer. The virtual town hall marks the start of a six-week campaign.
“We need our Senators to know it’s time to deliver and invest in home care workers because care is essential,” said Sherry Holloway, a home care worker and family caregiver from Orlando, Florida. “We are on this call to say we are not giving up and when we fight we win. By investing in care we can create the most racially diverse middle class this country has ever seen.”
The Build Back Better Act, which originally called for $400 billion in funding for home and community-based services, has since been pared down to $150 billion due to inflation and deficit concerns from two corporate Democrats in the Senate: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Despite these unfounded concerns, their constituents are not shying from putting pressure on elected officials to take action.
“I love caring for people, but this is very challenging work,” Joan, a home care worker for over three decades and a Sinema constituent in Arizona, said during the telephone town hall. “We have been overlooked, overworked, and underpaid especially now. I’m here to tell my elected officials that it’s time to pass Build Back Better. I am 65 and am forced to work at this age because I need to, looking after your family members so they can live with dignity, care, and respect like we all should.”
There are, however, still reliable champions for home care workers in the U.S. Senate who recognize the gravity of the moment we are in.
“Our nation is deep in a caregiving crisis for both families and care workers themselves,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a working mother living with a disability. “I’m one of the lucky ones, but for far too many families that’s not a possibility, that’s why we must invest in home and community based services and enact the Build Back Better Act to ensure that everyone can access these services. We made a promise to workers and seniors, and I’m going to work to make sure we keep that promise.”
Making bold investments in care through the Build Back Better Act would allow more aging and disabled Americans to stay in their homes rather than having to move into expensive and potentially dangerous for-profit nursing homes. The plan would also allow home care workers the ability to bargain collectively to improve wages and benefits.
Home care workers currently earn on average just under $17,000 a year and one in six live below the poverty line. Increasing wages for these workers would have a positive impact on racial and gender wealth inequality, as over 90 percent of U.S. home care workers are women, more than half are women of color, and 31 percent are immigrants.
Biden’s Build Back Better Act could be fully paid for through increasing taxes on billionaires and other wealthy Americans and large corporations. But with a handful of conservative Democrats balking at the overall price tag, negotiations are stalling. Care workers, for their part, will never stall. They will continue to provide critical, life-affirming services amid a global pandemic, all while continuing to advocate for dignified working conditions.
“To block this legislation means ignoring the needs of citizens,” said Lynn Widener, a care worker in Pennsylvania. “Care cannot wait. Care is essential and so are we.”