Commentary

Op-Ed: Congress Needs to Invest in Home Care Workers, Pass BBB

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Black women like me voted in huge numbers in 2020 because we wanted leadership that would deliver for our communities. We voted in a new wave of leaders who promised to build an economy that works for everyone and advances racial and economic justice, so every person — no matter our race, background or job title — can have a voice on the job and a chance to care for our families.

While much has been accomplished to create new jobs and keep communities safe, Congress has yet to deliver on the bold promises made to Black workers and voters. Members of Congress made a commitment to working families across our country, especially the millions of underpaid care workers, our clients and families — and they must deliver, by passing historic investments in good jobs, our care economy and our climate. If they don’t, they can’t expect us to deliver for them in the midterms. Broken promises do not inspire voter turnout.

I’ve been a home-care worker for 25 years, and I know from firsthand experience that care is essential for our communities. Home-care workers like me provide skilled compassionate care to older adults and people with disabilities, allowing them to live with dignity and independence at home. We help families go to work knowing their loved ones will be in good hands.

I take deep pride in what I do, but it is a constant struggle. While our cost of living continues to rise, our wages stay shamefully low. On top of that, care workers deal with serious issues like discrimination, sexual harassment and lack of basic benefits. I still don’t have paid leave, so I often must choose between taking time off and a paycheck, which, given my low wages, isn’t really a choice. Recently, two beloved clients passed away. I was devastated, but there were bills to pay, and I could not afford even one day off to grieve.

For too long, home-care workers, who are largely Black, Latina, Asian and Pacific Islander, indigenous and immigrant women, have been underpaid, undervalued and denied the chance to thrive. This is directly tied to systemic racism and sexism, and it has to change.

Every day, low pay, lack of benefits and training, and unsafe working conditions are driving skilled workers from the field, creating a serious shortage of providers at a time when our population is aging rapidly. Already, the U.S. will need to fill an estimated 4.7 million home-care jobs by 2028.

For us to be able to take the best possible care of our clients, we need to be able to take care of ourselves as well. That is why I joined Colorado Care Workers Unite, to join together with other care workers to win fair pay, respect and a union voice so we can advocate for ourselves and our clients. It’s also why Colorado needs President Joe Biden’s investment in home care — which invests $150 billion in creating and improving care jobs and expanding access to care for seniors, people with disabilities and working families — to pass the Senate as quickly as possible.

Investing in care cannot wait. Raising wages and standards is critical to recruiting and retaining care workers to meet the growing need. And it is an important step to begin to right the wrong of an economy that has long undervalued the labor of women of color.

President Biden’s investments in comprehensive paid leave, child care and in improving our environment — all paid for by fairly raising taxes on big corporations — will make a lasting impact for local workers, families and the next generation by creating jobs and lowering costs. After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t wait any longer to unrig the rules of our economy.

As a medical professional, I took an oath to take care of people, and I have kept my word. Our elected leaders in Congress also took an oath. And workers like me will hold them to their commitments. Now is the time to deliver on the promise of a better future for all, where every person has access to quality and dependable care, and every care worker can live with dignity and respect. Congress: Invest in home care.
CHARMAYNE PHILLIPS
Charmayne Phillips

Charmayne Phillips is a certified nursing assistant who has worked as a home-care provider in Colorado for over 25 years; she is a leader with Colorado Care Workers Unite.

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