New Campaign Aims to Lighten the Burden of Care

Ehmonie Hainey

Ehmonie Hainey Staff Writer, Jobs with Justice

Everyone deserves the freedom to live great lives and the ability to support their families. But the astronomical costs of child care and elder care put a damper on the enjoyment that comes along with caring for a loved one.

Once baby boomers reach retirement age, and life spans continue to increase, viable eldercare options will be in greater demand. As the national conversation on paid parental leave and family care decisions escalates, several states are advancing policy initiatives to ease the financial and time constraints of care.

On January 18, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice launched a coalition to enact RhodyCare, an ambitious policy to address universal family care needs. State legislators, care professionals, labor advocates, and community partners came together to present this innovative campaign for expanded access to child care and elder care for people working in the state.

An estimated 134,000 family caregivers across the Ocean State provide an approximate 142 million hours of uncompensated care – in large part to Rhode Island’s ever-expanding elder population. The high cost of living and idling wages already challenge Rhode Islanders’ ability to make ends meet. Skyrocketing childcare and eldercare expenses further exacerbate the problem.

RhodyCare comes on the heels of Hawaii’s groundbreaking KÅ«puna Caregivers Program. Last summer, Governor David Ige enacted a law creating a fund providing eligible families with up to $70 per day to assist with caregiving costs. The program lessens the financial burden on caregivers as they juggle work and family.

Advocates in Washington State also are following Hawaii’s lead with a similar push to make the costs of elder care more affordable for the state’s 830,000 family caregivers. The Long-Term Care Trust Act would provide long-term care insurance through a small payroll deduction. Working people can then use those funds to cover in-home care costs (an expense that Medicare does not cover) for one year. Sarita Gupta, Jobs With Justice executive director, and co-director of Caring Across Generations, explained that this legislation will benefit working people taking care of their Baby Boomer parents. “They’re living much longer than ever before – about 20 years longer than when our safety net was put into place,” she said. “So, we need more supports around elder care, and a lot of the financial burden is falling on families.”

Mainers are next in line for long-awaited assistance for in-home care provisions. Maine has the largest number of senior residents in the United States, and that number is expected to double by 2030.This year, Maine People’s Alliance and its network of volunteers and supporters generated more than 67,000 signatures of support for a Homecare for All ballot measure. The initiative would raise taxes on residents earning over $127,000 to back in-home senior care, as well as care for those with disabilities. Once the Secretary of State validates the signatures, the legislature will decide whether to enact the measure or move it to the public for a vote.

It’s great to know that a handful of communities are generating meaningful fixes to our crumbling care infrastructure. Solutions can’t come fast enough for women who make up the majority of the professional care workforce and deliver millions of hours of uncompensated care to family members.

Susan O’Connell is a Rhode Island resident with firsthand experience as a “sandwiched” caregiver juggling dual caregiving roles. The single mom was busy raising a teenage girl and running her own small business. Then one day, Susan’s mother died in her sleep, leaving her dad (who had early onset dementia) without a caretaker. She stepped in to take on the role her mom played. As a result, Susan had to shutter her business to manage shuttling her daughter back and forth to school, while also transporting her father from his home to hospitals and rehab centers.

The stress of driving 180 miles every day across Rhode Island, the loss of income, and expensive care costs “threw her life in a tailspin.” Susan backs the RhodyCare campaign because, “We should be able to keep people on a track when they have to take time out of their lives to become caregivers. We should have supplemental care for people who make the choice to take care of their family.”

The average family member, age 50 or over, who leaves their jobs to care for a family member will lose $303,880 in income, including salary, Social Security benefits, and private pensions. No one should feel forced to decide between maintaining a career and sustaining the needs of family members. And it’s not only working people who suffer. Businesses lose close to $33 billion per year when employees drop out of the workforce to provide full-time care for someone.

We need a permanent remedy to our broken care system that can weather the storm of growing care expenditures. Hawaii already set a precedent for other states to follow, and Maine, Washington, and Rhode Island have solutions in the works. A universal approach, including child care, long-term care, and family medical leave, is the contemporary solution for all. Working people need sustainable care choices to secure a better quality of life for themselves, and their nearest and dearest so each of us can work, live, and care with dignity.


Reposted from JWJ

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

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