Workers, Community Members, and Advocates Call on Congress to Invest in Care Economy

Workers, Community Members, and Advocates Call on Congress to Invest in Care Economy

Little Falls, NJ – August 26 – Families, workers, advocates and other community members gathered today at Montclair State University to call on Congress to invest in the Caring
Economy. Speakers lifted up the importance of our care economy and shared personal stories
of the consequences of lack of investments in our human infrastructure and called for Congress
to enact national paid family leave, invest in childcare, and expand and support care work.

“With the American Rescue Plan, Congress made bold investments in our families, our children
and our nation’s health. We expanded the Child Tax Credit, delivered direct payments to
hardworking families, ensured homeowners and renters could keep a roof over their head, and
put shots in people’s arms,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “As we move towards
passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and budget reconciliation in both chambers, we are
poised to make even greater once-in-a-lifetime investments that will have tremendous benefits
for generations to come. I appreciate the work of all the local advocates on these important
issues and look forward to continuing to work with them as we Build Back Better.”

“Since Day One, we have focused on building a stronger and fairer economy that works for
every New Jersey family,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Together, we were able to expand paid
family leave, invest in pre-K, and provide affordable childcare for working families. Now, at the
federal level, President Biden is pursuing many of these same initiatives. I’m proud to support
the President’s full Build Back Better agenda for bold and ambitious investments in both hard
and human infrastructure.

“As a working mother of four, I know firsthand how critical childcare and paid family leave are to
families as well as to our businesses and our communities. Childcare in the country was already
in crisis. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem and not addressing it only hinders
our nation’s economic recovery. Too many families––especially working moms––are struggling
to get back into the workforce because of continued childcare issues and now is the time to fix
this. I am proud to stand with NJ Time to Care Coalition in the fight to pass federal paid family
leave and support working parents,” said U.S. Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ).

During the event, organizers highlighted vital reforms in the Congressional budget reconciliation
package, including national paid family and medical leave, and investments in childcare and
care workers. Essential care workers and other speakers shared their experiences needing paid
time off work to care for loved ones, challenges in accessing and providing quality, affordable
childcare, and struggling to get by on poverty-level wages and no benefits.

“Unlike most advanced industrialized countries, the U.S. care infrastructure is inequitable,
underfunded and does not adequately meet the needs of everyday families,” said Yarrow
Willman-Cole, Workplace Justice Program Director at NJ Citizen Action. “Care workers
and working families, often some of the most vulnerable, have been enduring poor conditions
and compensation for far too long. It’s time for Congress to seize this opportunity to advance
policies for our nation’s care infrastructure. And significantly, we can finally end our infamous
status as virtually the only country without paid family leave.”

While New Jersey has a strong paid family and medical leave program, the U.S. is the only
developed country — and one of only a few in the world — without national paid family leave.
Workers are demanding comprehensive paid family and medical leave, which is part of the Build
Back Better economic recovery plan. They called for at least 12 weeks of paid leave readily
available, with those earning the lowest pay receiving the highest percentage of wages while on
leave, the ability to take leave to care for all loved ones, and workers able to return to the same
or equivalent job to ensure they can take the time they need, and create fairness and employer

“My daughter could afford to take time off to care for me after I had lung cancer surgery thanks
to New Jersey’s paid family leave program and it made all the difference in the world to me and
for my recovery. I believe that paid family leave is a fundamental right that everyone should be
entitled to. Now is the time for Congress to pass the first national paid family leave program in
the U.S.,” said Permelia Toney-Boss, advocate with Voices of Workers with the Paid Leave
for All. “It would be shameful if we did not ensure paid leave for all as we begin to emerge from
the pandemic, it needs to be a core part of recovery for all.”

Speakers also urged Congress to include $400 billion in the budget reconciliation to expand
access to Medicaid home- and community-based services for seniors and people with
disabilities, and to strengthen the care workforce. Such investments help keep people in their
homes and communities for longer than they would be otherwise. They called for essential care
workers, domestic workers, and essential workers to earn a livable wage.

“As a domestic care worker and an organizer, 15 dollars an hour is not enough due to the high
cost of living in the United States. Home care workers, farmworkers, laundromat workers, and
other essential workers deserve to live with dignity and not in the precarious condition we
currently face. We love the work we do, and we deserve better, said Evelyn Sanz, a
homecare worker and organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The
government must invest in our care, in our health system, so that care becomes affordable to
everyone and not a luxury commodity for the few. We need investments in care for the elderly, a
better care system for our heroes and heroines in our disability community, for our children, and
for workers. That is why we demand today that Congress make at least a $400 billion
investment in our communities.

Families and advocates urged lawmakers to build a comprehensive childcare and early
education system that works for our nation’s children, families, educators, and economy.
Congress must ensure that the reconciliation bill allocates a robust investment in childcare so
that no family spends more than 7 percent of their income on childcare and many families can
access care at no cost. Childcare must be accessible, culturally relevant, safe, and can be
provided by childcare providers of different types. Workers also need a living wage with benefits
such as paid leave.

“The pandemic made it impossible for me to return to work after my maternity leave was up as I
planned when my daughter was born.  But difficulties in accessing affordable childcare made
going back to work much harder and it has taken much longer,” said Dominique Virgo, mother
and school security guard worker. “Everyone should be able to afford to stay home after the
birth of a new child like I was able to do, and to find quality, affordable childcare when they are
ready to go back to work. Congress needs to do what is right and move legislation that will help
working families. It is time to take action because our families’ care cannot wait.”

The “Care is Essential” event had a “sandwich generation” theme, offering free ice cream to all
participants. The Sandwich generation refers to adults who are simultaneously supporting both
aging loved ones and young children, whether financially, physically, or emotionally.

“As a mother of four with a spouse who was temporarily disabled, it’s important to my family has
that we have access to programs that support us. High-quality childcare keeps all children safe
and healthy. It is essential to give every child the tools for success at such a critical time in their
social and emotional development. These building blocks construct the foundation for a lifetime
of success,” said Habibah Johnson, a working mother from Hudson County.  “And
paid family leave allows families to care for their loved ones in times of need. It’s time that our
leaders prioritize our families and invest in our caring economy.”

Speakers explained that robust public investment in a care infrastructure would create jobs at
twice the rate of traditional bricks and mortar investment and it will address the U.S.'s growing
demand for care services as the population ages. They argued that investment in the care
infrastructure would advance racial, gender and economic equity.

“Supporting a robust caring economy is essential to putting an end to the crisis facing women in
the workplace,” stated YWCA Northern NJ CEO Helen Archontou. “As a working mom,
caregiver to my aging mother, and the leader of an organization whose mission is to empower
women and eliminate racism I have a great understanding of the issues on all sides. – It is
critical to pass legislation that prioritizes the essential service care workers provide to all our

“A budget that invests in a robust care infrastructure will lift families, boost our economy, enable
parents to work, and create millions more good jobs. It will be both job enabling and job
creating, elevating businesses and keeping moms and caregivers in the jobs they need,” said
Executive Director/CEO & Co-Founder MomsRising Together & MomsRising Education
Fund, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner.

The event was sponsored by NJ Citizen Action, NJ Time to Care Coalition, Advocates for
Children of NJ, MomsRising, NJ 11th for Change, BlueWaveNJ, Planned Parenthood Action
Fund, New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, YWCANNJ, the Statewide Parent
Advocacy Network, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the Center For Autism And Early
Childhood Mental Health at Montclair State University.

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