Some Democratic lawmakers are holding President Joseph Biden’s feet to the fire, demanding he fulfill a campaign promise to direct $450 billion to home- and community-based services (HCBS). This funding concern was part of a webinar discussion Wednesday on improving pay and equality for direct care workers.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) said during the event that she and 70 Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives are sending a letter to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urging them to support increased funding for HCBS. “We need to reform and rebuild the system. We’ve got to work together on this,” Dingell said during the webinar sponsored by nonprofit research consulting firm Altarum.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law recently included $12.7 billion for HCBS and a 10% increase in Medicaid’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) over the next year. Dingell called that “a good first step” but said programs that support home-based care need a lot more funding.

Push for living wage

Also part of the discussion during the webinar was higher worker pay. Advocates and activists for home care providers said the industry’s 1.4 million workers must be paid a living wage — pay necessary to meet a worker’s basic needs. LeadingAge — a nonprofit representing the aging services industry  — estimates paying workers a living wage could pump up to $22 billion annually into local economies and cut up to $1.6 billion from government public assistance programs.

“Many of these folks are on Medicaid, they’re getting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. We could be weaning folks off of them as they are being paid a livable wage,” LeadingAge Senior Vice President Robyn Stone said Wednesday.

Home care workers in the U.S. earn between $20,000 and $24,000 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for home and home healthcare workers is expected to grow roughly 34% in the next decade as baby boomers age.

Stone said boosting wages now could attract workers from other industries and build a pipeline of home care workers in the future.