Bennet home care town hall

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks to home health care worker advocates from Colorado Care Workers Unite, SEIU Local 105, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Colorado Jobs with Justice, Colorado Working Families Party, and CCDC Action during a town hall to discuss upcoming budget negotiations at City Park in Denver on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Wednesday that he's confident a massive spending package being assembled in the Senate will include legislation he's pushing to expand home health care and boost pay for workers in the field.

“Our home care workers provide vital services to families, seniors and people living with disabilities in our communities, but over half of them rely on public assistance to live,” Bennet said at a forum at Denver's City Park organized by unions that represent health care workers.

“Caregivers, who are largely women of color and immigrants, deserve to earn a living wage, receive benefits and be treated like the essential workers they are. It’s time to transform low-paying caregiver jobs into middle-class, high-quality, good-paying jobs across the country.”

Bennet is urging fellow Senate Democrats to include his proposal to spend $400 billion on home and community-based health care in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure, a broad blueprint covering health care, social issues and climate policy. The measure, given an initial OK along party lines in the Senate last week, is structured so Democrats can pass the bill out of the Senate without having to face a Republican-led filibuster.

The forum, sponsored by Service Employees International Union Local 105 and Colorado Care Workers Unite, featured home care workers and people who rely on their services. Other groups on hand included Colorado Fiscal Institute, Colorado Jobs with Justice, Colorado Working Families Party and CCDC Action.

"Because of your advocacy," Bennet said, "I am very optimistic that we’re going to be able to achieve this."

Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, said the proposal addresses widespread needs.

“About 10% of Coloradans have a disability and 25% will have one in their lifetime," she said. "Having a disability often means that we need human assistance to live our lives and to enjoy what are considered rights of all Americans such as the right to life and liberty. The way we pay for these services shows the societal value we have. People that do this work deserve raises for the cost of living and merit and our budgets must include funds for paid time off — not only for COVID but for all needs.”

A report issued by SEIU estimates that Bennet's proposal — introduced in June as the stand-alone Better Care Better Jobs Act — could create 13,500 jobs in Colorado on top of the roughly three times that number currently employed, according to a recent survey.

Women make up 87% of the home care workforce, which pays a median hourly wage of $12.12, the union said. In addition, more than half of Colorado's home care workers receive some form of public assistance.

"Why now?" Bennet said. "Because we have all seen what you’ve already known for all these years, because of COVID. We’ve seen how essential the workers are — we say that, anyway, but now we’ve actually seen it — how essential the work is, and we know that people need to be compensated in a way that makes sense."

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