Biden’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan makes an enormous wager on caregivers

The word “infrastructure” tends to be reminiscent of bridges and roads, but President Biden’s proposed $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan aims to extend that concept to care workers.

And unions that help these workers organize to claim that they are “infrastructure” too. The foundations of the economy, proponents argue, have expanded far beyond asphalt and steel beams.

“It’s a shift in the public’s perception of what we mean by” infrastructure “,” Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, told Yahoo News.

Henry continued, “That home carers and childcare workers are part of the national infrastructure and deserve tax investments, as well as rebuilding roads and bridges, restoring the power grid, and expanding solar and wind power. I think this is an incredible indication of how COVID has shed light on the essential work that was being done in the economy by workers who were previously invisible and which became visible because an entire part of our country was preserved when we were ordered to stay home to go to work to get things moving. “

The American employment plan, which the Democrats want to pass in a tightly divided Congress this year, provides for $ 400 billion for the care of the elderly and disabled through Medicaid. Funding would fund the care of these people through visiting staff and allowing people to return to their homes from long-term facilities. Biden promoted these aspects of his bill during a rollout speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“It will expand access to high-quality, affordable home or community care,” said Biden, while promoting funding for the Road, Bridge and Airport Act. “Think of expanded vital services like programs for the elderly or homecare workers who go to retirement homes and people with disabilities, cook meals, help them find their way around their homes, and help them live more independently.”

The story goes on

Personal care assistant Maria Colville. (Lane Turner / Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Many of these jobs are done by women of color, sometimes without papers, and are often poorly paid. Experts have warned of an impending care crisis for years, but former President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration has fueled concerns. One study found that guidelines would affect care for the elderly and disabled, while domestic help services reported a shortage of applicants. As part of his proposal, Biden seeks to raise wages for these workers, though the details are left to Congress.

Henry described the legislation as “the first employment program to focus on an industry composed primarily of women of skin color”. She added, “These women turned out to be record numbers for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and I think they will see themselves in the investment in jobs he proposed.”

Biden repeated similar topics in his speech in Pittsburgh.

“For too long, caregivers – who are disproportionately women, women of color and immigrants – have been invisible, underpaid and undervalued,” Biden said. “This plan, along with the American Families Plan, is changing that by providing better wages, benefits and opportunities for the millions of people who can work in an economy that works for them.”

Biden’s choice of Pittsburgh as the venue for the launch of his plan highlighted the changing work dynamics across much of the country.

The city of Rust Belt has been cited by Republicans like Trump and Senator Ted Cruz as an example of why the United States had to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement to rely on the alliterative contrast despite Pittsburgh’s commitment to green energy and jobs. While sometimes stereotypical as an industrial city, in the past few decades the city has grown into a hub for healthcare, technology companies, and higher education. Much of the area, however, has been overlooked.

Joe Biden

President Biden after speaking about infrastructure spending in Pittsburgh. (Evan Vucci / AP)

According to the census quoted in the University of Chicago historian Gabriel Winant’s book “The Next Shift,” which traces the shift in Pittsburgh jobs from the heyday of the steel industry to today’s care economy, one in seven jobs nationwide is in the area “Health” care and welfare, “with the rate rising to a fifth in some northern and Midwestern cities where hospitals are primary employers. These positions accounted for 74 percent of low wage growth in the 2000s, up from 56 percent in the 1980s.

Winant writes: “Nurses are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They are responsible for everyone, but nobody is responsible for them “, which leads to a situation in which” workers become collectively indispensable and yet individually available “.

“It is offensive to be labeled ‘essential’ and then get a poverty wage and not get that [personal protective equipment] You need and all of these types of crimes that we saw early on in the pandemic, ”Winant told Yahoo News. “The main problem that every patient brings up with you is that they are understaffed before telling you about their wages. We just need a lot more people to do this job, especially as the baby boomers retire and get older. “

Winant said that the labor movement traditionally shifts with the cycle of economic change and development, but it also lags behind.

“This process of change is an integral part of the history of the labor movement and therefore, historically, the labor movement is not growing gradually,” said Winant. “It grows in large peaks and decreases over long periods of time, then it grows in another large peak as it figures out how to adapt to a new environment and innovate new forms of organization. All of which means I think we’re due for another moment like this one. “

In addition to funding nursing staff, Biden has asked to repair thousands of kilometers of roads and thousands of bridges. There are also regulations for electric vehicle chargers, which electrify 20 percent of school buses, airports, waterways, and low- and middle-income homes in the country. The White House has announced that it will make a second proposal to the American employment plan, which includes programs such as the free community college, the universal preschool garden, and a national paid vacation program.

Lora Lodkina, left, and Galina Zhidkova

Housekeeper Lora Lodkina (left) helps Galina Zhidkova with her shopping in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston. (Suzanne Kreiter / Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Biden’s political plans face critics from both the left and the right.

Many conservatives, already prone to opposition to new domestic spending programs, argue that the concept of “infrastructure” cannot be as comprehensive as Democrats and unions are calling for. Republicans criticized the bill to fund not only caregivers, but also the power grid, water systems and broadband network.

“I was shocked at how much is not going into the infrastructure,” said Governor Kristi Noem RS.D. opposite Fox News host Sean Hannity. “It’s about research and development. It is about housing and pipes and various initiatives, green energy, and it really is not an honest conversation that we are having about this proposal. “

Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell said Thursday, “I will fight them at every step because I think this is the wrong recipe for America.”

Meanwhile, some progressives argue that the bill does not go far enough, urging Biden to combine the two legislative packages fearing the second might not be passed.

“I want to see the details of how they are going to make sure the climate and childcare problems don’t lag behind,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “We can’t have the train.” Leave the station and critical parts remain on the platform. “

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Chair of the Progressive Congressional Caucus, also argued that “this package can and should be significantly larger in size and scope.”

“While we understand that there is a separate package to be released for broader support for the care industry, healthcare and independent universities, we prefer a single, ambitious package that includes both physical and care infrastructure – these investments go hand in hand -hand, and we must both restore our economies and strengthen families, “Jayapal said in a statement.

Democrats cannot afford to lose the support of their own party’s lawmakers if they want to pass massive spending bills. Without Republicans in the Senate, Democrats would have to use the process of reconciliation to pass the bill, which means all 50 members of the caucus must sign it. Opposition from a single Senator on the left – like Warren or Senator Bernie Sanders, who proposed adding Medicare’s expansion to the package – or a small group of House Democrats would worsen the bill’s chances, as would Senator Joe Manchin, DW. Va., One of the most outspoken moderate members.

Polls show the proposal is widespread among Americans, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily receive Republican support. Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan, which has received over 70 percent acceptance in multiple polls, did not receive any GOP votes last month. As with this bill, Biden will likely advocate the case that “non-partisan” needs to be redefined.

Meanwhile, organizations like the SEIU say they will mobilize their workers to push for the bill, including working with climate activists to lobby for lawmakers.

Henry said, “This job program is a fundamental change and makes caring a good job of the future where people can actually raise their families instead of scratching to get through, and that’s going to be a big change.”

Winant said the legislation was a positive move, but both the work-friendly politicians and the workers themselves had still done significant work.

“Ultimately, you cannot reshape the labor movement and rebalance society simply from the White House or Congress,” added Winant. “That’s an important part of it, but employee collective assertion has always been central to this process and there are major barriers to it in labor law and the structure of labor markets right now.”

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