Hill Hearing Highlights Differing Approaches to Support Direct Care Workers

July 20 hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Education & Labor (E&L) revealed sharp differences in preferred solutions to the challenge of building a strong direct care workforce, even as members largely agreed what those challenges are and that the federal government has a role to play in overcoming them.

During the hearing, many Democrats expressed support for the Direct Creation, Advancement, and Retention of Employment (CARE) Opportunity Act (H.R. 2999), a bill introduced in May by E&L Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). That bill would allocate more than $1 billion in federal grants over five years to improve recruitment, career advancement, training and more for direct care workers. A slightly different companion bill in the Senate, the Supporting Our Direct Care Workforce and Family Caregivers Act (S. 2344) was also recently introduced last week.

While Republican lawmakers agreed during the hearing that fostering a strong direct care workforce is important, they raised concerns about the creation of a separate and standalone federal program focused on one specific kind of profession, arguing that it could be redundant and not flexible enough to meet unique local needs. Instead of new legislation, many Republican members touted re-authorization of the existing Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as a promising lever for workforce support, inclusive of but not exclusively focused on direct care workers. WIOA was first signed into law in 2014, and is designed to help job seekers of all kinds access employment, education, training, and support services.

The hearing comes amidst the backdrop of a wider policymaker focus on home care and the home-based workforce. Spurred in large part by President Biden’s call earlier this year to invest $400 billion in home and community-based services, the debate on how exactly to respond to the field’ workforce challenges has reached Congress, where active conversations are happening on which home care provisions will be included in an expected multi-trillion dollar reconciliation legislative package.

NAHC appreciates policy efforts to boost innovative recruitment, retention and advancement programs for our members’ workforces, but also understands that these programs need more sustainable support in the form of boosted provider payment rates, without which many of the innovations will be hard to institutionalize over the long-term. We look forward to working with our congressional champions on policies that support our members’ ability to improve the lives and the work of their employees.