WASHINGTON — Two weeks after Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Brittany Williams, a third-generation home care worker from Seattle, made a direct plea to the president-elect: deliver on his campaign promise to prioritize workers like her. “Caregivers – we’re the maintainers of life,” an impassioned Williams, 34, said during a zoom call with frontline health care workers hosted by the soon-to-be president.
Long overlooked and often ignored, caregiving was “literally birthed out of slavery and bondage,” Williams, an African American mother of two children, told Biden. After doctors treat the elderly and disabled, caregivers “maintain that care,” she said. They feed their patients, bathe them, dress them. They also go to the grocery store and pharmacy on their behalf, putting their own health at risk during a global pandemic. “We continue to work our job because it means so much to us,” she said.
Biden committed on the spot. Five months later, the president has now proposed $400 billion to overhaul caregiving in the U.S., making it one of the most significant planks of of a $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan that would be funded by a corporate tax hike. Long-term care experts say it would mark a historic investment for a workforce that is 87% women – 61% women of color – earns an average of $12.12 an hour and includes many immigrants. “For too long,” Biden said in a speech announcing his American Jobs Plan, caregivers “have been unseen, underpaid and undervalued.”
Yet the proposal is getting fierce pushback from Republicans. Caregiving is one of the most notable examples of how the White House expanded the traditional definition of infrastructure in its jobs proposal to include “human infrastructure” and “social infrastructure.” Republicans argue Biden should have limited his legislative package to the repair of roads, bridges, railways and other physical infrastructure. “This plan is not about rebuilding America’s backbone,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said. In a tweet singling out “$400 billion towards elder care,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, said flatly: “President Biden’s proposal is about anything but infrastructure.”