In the politically divided U.S. Capitol Thursday, senators on both sides of the aisle called for support of home- and community-based services benefiting seniors and those suffering from cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

“This is not a red issue or a blue issue. This is truly a purple issue,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said during a hearing on caregiving by the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “The American family is focused on this issue that we know is devastating families throughout this country. By bringing more attention to this topic, we will be able to help bring more resources and more expertise to the table.”

The virtual hearing came less than a week after a bipartisan group of Senators hammered out a compromise to the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan that leaves out funding for the nation’s care economy. President Joseph Biden has demanded $400 billion dollars to support higher wages for caregivers and increased funding for HCBS. Democrats appear to be divided about whether to support the compromise legislation

Kaitlin Montenez, a family caregiver from Ephrata, PA, told the committee her father was turned down repeatedly for Medicaid-funded HCBS because his Alzheimer’s disease hadn’t progressed enough. Montenez said the family struggled to care for him before finally receiving a Medicaid waiver for services a few months ago.

“It was a game-changer for us, but it shouldn’t be that hard for people to receive the services they need,” Montenez said.

Wages and benefits hurdle

Low median wages and benefits are an obstacle to filling the 8 million caregiving jobs elder care research firm PHI International estimates the U.S. will need before the end of the decade. The median wage for home care workers is currently less than $13 an hour.

The dearth of workers is forcing many family members to leave the workforce to take on the role of caregiver themselves.

“All of this can result in lost wages, diminished social security earnings, jeopardizing the overall stability of families,” National Domestic Workers Alliance Executive Director Ai-jen Poo said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called on Senate colleagues to push for the $400 billion investment in HCBS.

“For millions of families, and especially for women, home and community-based services are a bridge to supporting their families, returning to work and to economic security,” Casey said.

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