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New Bipartisan Legislation Aims to Support Older Americans and Empower People with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., February 22 – Last month, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08) and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV-01) introduced a new, bipartisan bill intended to address the direct care workers shortage. This new bill, entitled the Improving Care for Vulnerable Older Citizens and People with Disabilities through Workforce Advancement Act, would amend the Public Health Service Act to develop an expanded role for direct care workers who provide long-term services that help older Americans, and help people with disabilities enter the workforce.

Direct care workers are a proven lifeline for those they serve, as well as for families and friends struggling to provide high-quality care. Currently, many direct care workers fail to earn a living wage and almost none have opportunities for career advancement. Reports show low job satisfaction with a very high turn over rates. The expense to replace each Direct Care Worker can be costly and detrimental to the health care of a patient. 

Bipartisan Legislation Before Congress

Democratic and Republican lawmakers hope that the Workforce Advancement Act will create sustainable career paths for direct care workers while simultaneously improving care and lowering health care costs. They hope care workers will find the jobs more attractive and choose to stay in the field longer.

According to Rep. Cartwright, “For too long our society has undervalued and underinvested in the lifesaving work that direct care workers do, shortchanging our nation’s caregivers and our loved ones under their care.”

Further, added Rep. McKinely, “This bill will address both of those needs, by expanding the specialized training programs available, growing the skilled workforce that supports these essential home care services.”

The bill includes a new research demonstration program, providing additional training and certifications to bring direct care workers closer in line with other health care providers. 

Studies show that most people with disabilities want to work and are more than capable of performing the duties required by these jobs. Many workers with disabilities depend on direct care workers to enable their independence and access the workforce. 

The bill will also provide direct care workers with opportunities for career advancement, which will hopefully help address the high turnover in this field of work.

The Workforce Advancement Act will also impact members of the disability community who want job opportunities by providing advanced training for all care workers, including personal-care attendants, direct service providers and home health workers. This training will focus on responding to the coronavirus by learning about transportation, technology, food service, maintenance and cleaning needs of individuals. Since many individuals with disabilities rely on personal-care attendants, this training will be imperative to help these individuals reenter the workforce and continue to care for the senior and disability community.

RespectAbility’s Perspective

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Olegario Cantos VII, Chairman of the national disability inclusion organization RespectAbility. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else. Bipartisan bills like the Workforce Advancement Act are critical because they will enable many more people with disabilities to work while getting the support they need.”

“It is critically important that lawmakers offer people with disabilities the chance to be part of the solution,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “There are effective programs that train jobseekers with disabilities to pursue careers in the caring economy and those models need to be expanded. Many people with disabilities are quite capable of performing the kinds of tasks necessary to participate in care work jobs.”

The success or failure of getting more people with disabilities integrated into the workforce impacts thousands of communities and millions of families nationwide. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than fifty-six million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and non-visible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health, or autism.

For the latest news on disability policy issues, follow The RespectAbility Report.

Published inCongressEmployment

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