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VT Sen. Sanders holds town hall on what he calls a national child and home care worker crisis

Senator Bernie Sanders (right) holds a town hall on child and home care workers
Senator Bernie Sanders Facebook screenshot
Senator Bernie Sanders Facebook page
Senator Bernie Sanders (right) holds a town hall on child and home care workers

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders held a Town Hall in Washington this week to discuss what he says is a national child and home care worker crisis.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee chair Senator Bernie Sanders brought together leaders of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and Early Childhood Educator and home care workers. He told those attending that direct care workers are doing critical work.

“The work you are doing taking care of our elderly, taking care of the disabled, those of you who are child care workers taking care of kids who are 2 or 3 years of age, in my humble opinion you are doing some of the most important work in this country," Sanders said. "And the day is going to come when you are going to get the wages, the benefits, the working conditions that you deserve.”

Sanders added such workers are the true heroes of the economy.

“Today in America 40 percent of home health care workers make wages so low that they are either living in poverty or near the poverty line," the senator said. "Direct care workers are the true heroines and heroes of our economy and it is about time that we treated you with the respect and the dignity that you deserve.”

As committee chair Sanders says he is advocating for guaranteed health care and to raise the national minimum wage to a living wage of at least $17 per hour.

HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families chair Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said they have reintroduced the Better Care, Better Jobs Act.

“What we’re trying to do in the bill is pretty simple. It’s right in the name of the bill," Casey said. "Better care for seniors and people with disabilities. Better jobs for those who do the work. Better care and better jobs and better support for families. All those family caregivers. They need help as well. Now the problem we had last year is we couldn’t get the other side to work with us. But there’s so much more work we have to do to make sure that the greatest country in the world has the greatest caregiving in the world.”

Seeming more like a rally than a forum at times, union leaders and workers related the importance of direct care workers.

Service Employees International Union SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry says without real action the care crisis will get worse.

“Elected leaders at every level of government need to deliver investment in care work and in care workers," Henry said. "That means enacting strong federal staffing standards in nursing homes, funding universal child care, passing the Better Care for Better Jobs Act. And that means moving the federal minimum wage. We are going to put those jobs at the center of our economy.”

Home care worker Venice Sanders said direct care workers put their own problems aside to help others.

“That’s what we do as health care professionals. We’re not health care workers. We are health care professionals," Venice Sanders said. "But this work is not for everybody. Care work is hard. I want to go to the dentist without being embarrassed to say I don’t have health care benefits. Do you know how embarrassing that is for a health care worker that we go out and work 40 plus hours a week and we can’t go to the doctor’s? But yet I still take care of people who do have health care benefits. We want to be treated with dignity, respect and we want to get the pay that we deserve. We want to get the health care benefits that we need.”