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Health care pandemic heroes deserve a fair paycheck

Everyone who works hard deserves a living wage, paid time off, affordable health care, parental leave and more. But we owe a special debt to those who work in the care economy. 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined what it means to be a hero. Ordinary people have risked their lives doing essential work — and not just in health care. People who care for children, the elderly and those with disabilities have supported the most vulnerable members of our communities when we needed them most.

It’s long past time that caregivers get the support — and the pay — they deserve. To that end, Congress’ recently passed budget reconciliation instructions provide an opportunity for a historic investment in the care-giving economy.

For those who care for the elderly, people with disabilities and more, President Joe Biden has proposed $400 billion for home and community-based services. These funds would strongly encourage states to expand Medicaid HCBS, putting resources and additional staff where it’s most needed.

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We must also ensure individuals and families have the choice to use intermediate care facilities for more comprehensive services, as appropriate for the individual. And we must ensure these settings are staffed adequately as well.

These care workers, many of them AFSCME members, allow seniors and individuals with disabilities to enjoy greater dignity and independence. They help with everything from basic tasks like bathing and feeding to building social skills and job training. Their work makes it possible for these individuals to have a wider array of choices in how they live.

But too often, these dedicated caregivers are an afterthought, rarely getting the respect they deserve or a family-supporting wage. This new HCBS funding would go a long way toward helping to fix that problem.

Child care providers are also among the lowest-paid workers in the country. President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda would build the seamless child care system working families deserve. He has proposed $250 billion to make care affordable, and to raise standards and better support the workers who care for our kids.

Everyone who works hard deserves a living wage, paid time off, affordable health care, parental leave, and more. But we owe a special debt to those who work in the care economy.

Our union is proud to represent thousands of Illinois public service workers who enrich the lives of children, the elderly and people with disabilities. We strongly support President Biden’s plans to invest in these workers and reform the systems that have failed to recognize their worth. Congress must act with haste to pass the President’s plans in full.

Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31

Mandates then and now

I highly appreciated Phil Kadner’s elegantly simple yet powerful instructive column on the similar ways we, as freedom-loving Americans, reacted against the government requirement of wearing car seat belts in the 1980s and the way too many of us are reacting against masks mandates during today’s Covid pandemic.

Mr. Kadner is the right kind of messenger our country needs — someone gentle, historically informed and extremely convincing — particularly as we fight this war against Covid-19 and its variants: a common enemy that affects all Americans, no matter our political preferences.

Alejandro Lugo, Park Forest