A bicameral group of U.S. lawmakers is hoping to close home care’s widening labor gap and make the caregiver job more rewarding.
Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Susie Lee (D-Nev.) introduced the Direct Creation, Advancement and Retention of Employment (CARE) Opportunity Act — H.R. 4397 — on Thursday. In the Senate, they were joined by Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Broadly, the Direct CARE Opportunity Act looks to further invest in training and employment advancement opportunities for America’s direct care workers, keeping them professionally engaged in the home care industry and potentially away from higher-paying, less demanding jobs in other sectors, such as retail.
According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million home care workers will be needed by 2024 to help take care of the country’s aging population, which is increasingly made up of individuals with multiple disabilities and chronic care needs.
“Direct care workers provide invaluable support to seniors and people experiencing disabilities — but in New Hampshire and across the country, there are not enough people to fill these critical roles,” Sen. Hassan said in a statement. “This bill not only helps to close this workforce gap, but will also directly benefit the direct care workers by investing in training as well as career advancement.”
Specifically, the newly introduced legislation hopes to support the direct care workforce by providing funding to 15 entities to invest in strategies to recruit, retain and advance the caregiving pipeline. The bill also encourages the use of mentorship programs and other innovative efforts on the state and local levels.
Nationally, roughly 90% of direct care workers are women, with half being people of color and a quarter being immigrants, according to industry statistics. Additionally, one in six U.S. caregivers lives in poverty.
And while the work is lowing-paying, it’s often also dangerous, with direct care workers suffering from disproportionately high rates of injury. In 2016, the injury rate for nursing assistants was 337 per 10,000, as compared to 100 per 10,000 for other occupations.
“There will be a shocking number of job openings in home care over the next decade,” Stephen Campbell, data and policy analyst at PHI, previously told Home Health Care News. “If we do not address workforce recruitment and retention now, we will struggle to fill 4.2 million job openings by 2026.”
It is unclear how much federal funding the Direct CARE Opportunity Act would send toward the home care workforce. But any grants secured through the legislation would not last less than 5 years.
“Direct care workers provide critical services to our nation’s seniors and individuals with disabilities,” Rep. Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said in a statement. “As one of the fastest-growing occupational sectors in the country, we must make meaningful investments to ensure that this field attracts talented professionals and provides advancement opportunities for those dedicated to the profession.”