April Verrett, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015 (center), and supporters attend a rally to urge Congress to protect Medicaid and invest in home care on May 5, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

April Verrett, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015 (center), and supporters attend a rally to urge Congress to protect Medicaid and invest in home care on May 5, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Brian Stukes/Getty Images for SEIU Care Campaign)

'Care Can't Wait': IRA a Good Start, Progressives Say, But More Is Needed

"Americans deserve a full loaf of bread," said health justice advocate Ady Barkan.

While welcoming House Democrats' passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on Friday, advocates for universal healthcare, child care, paid family leave, and home and community-based services stressed that greater investments in care infrastructure are needed to improve working households' economic wellbeing.

"The work to lift up struggling families is unfinished as our care infrastructure remains in crisis."

"This bill is a tenth of a loaf. But if you're starving, a tenth of a loaf is a good start," Ady Barkan, the co-executive director of Be A Hero and a leading Medicare for All champion, said in a statement.

"I celebrate the investments in climate because I want my children to grow up on a habitable Earth," said Barkan. "I celebrate the investment in more affordable health insurance and the opening of negotiations over drug prices."

Although the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) contains significant giveaways to the fossil fuel industry--included to woo right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a coal profiteer and top recipient of oil and gas money whose vote was needed to pass the 10-year, $740 billion package through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process--it also subsidizes clean energy production at a level that could substantially reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The legislation, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign next week, also imposes a 15% minimum tax on billion-dollar corporations and a 1% excise on stock buybacks, extends private health insurance subsidies through 2025--averting a premium hike for millions of voters just before November's pivotal midterms--and requires Medicare to negotiate prices for a subset of prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical firms.

"For decades, the pharmaceutical industry has had Congress and the American people in a death grip," said Barkan. "This law will begin to free us from their clutches. We will need many more victories like this to guarantee all of us the healthcare we deserve, and this is a reminder that such wins are within our reach."

Barkan, whose ALS diagnosis has left him paralyzed and reliant on home care, emphasized that "we need so much more."

"Healthcare, including home care, should be a right for everyone," he said. "The lesson is that we simply need to build enough political power to make it so. Because Americans deserve a full loaf of bread."

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Barkan's assessment of the IRA was echoed by the Care Can't Wait coalition, an alliance of organizations committed to expanding access to essential services and improving pay and conditions for the workers who provide them.

"We applaud the historic and overdue progress on climate change, drug pricing, healthcare, and tax reform reflected in the Inflation Reduction Act," the coalition said in a statement. "We look forward to millions of families and communities being helped by these important investments--butthe work to lift up struggling families is unfinished as our care infrastructure remains in crisis."

"Legislation designed to grow the economy and to address the economic struggles of families should invest in the care economy, including robust paid family and medical leave, child care, and home and community-based services. It should invest in the care workforce and the caregivers who have held our economy together through unprecedented upheaval," the coalition continued. "But the Inflation Reduction Act falls short on both of these critical measures."

"There is no successful or sustainable economic agenda without women and without care."

Amid "unprecedented attacks on women and the erosion of support for families," said the coalition--referring to the GOP's life-threatening war on abortion and Congress' failure to extend the poverty- and hunger-slashing Child Tax Credit--"people all over the country, particularly women and disproportionately women of color, are feeling like their needs are invisible to decision-makers."

"The care economy is central to President Biden's Build Back Better agenda for very clear reasons," the coalition added. "Strong care infrastructure is essential to building a healthy economy, to caregivers' and parents'--especially women's--ability to work, and to families and individuals having the support they need."

Last year, when the first iteration of the Democratic Party's reconciliation package was still alive, Barkan and the ACLU launched a television and digital ad campaign slamming right-wing Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) for undermining Biden's popular push for a $400 billion investment in home and community-based services.

Sinema and fellow corporate-funded saboteur Manchin are primarily responsible for killing the Build Back Better Act and weakening the IRA--legislation that could only circumvent GOP obstructionism with the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus plus Vice President Kamala Harris.

When Senate Democrats finally passed their long-awaited climate, tax, and healthcare bill earlier this week, Be a Hero described it as "a huge deal," while lamenting that the package "doesn't go as far as it should have."

"We are heartbroken that investments in home and community-based services, child care, and paid family leave--lifelines that too many people have been waiting on for too long--were left out," said the group, which promised to keep fighting "for the millions of people in need of care and the people who provide it."

Investing in stronger care policies and the care workforce "would yield millions of good jobs, billions in wages, and trillions in GDP," Care Can't Wait said Friday.

"Absent these investments," the coalition continued, "families, parents and caregivers, older adults, and people with disabilities will continue to struggle under the crushing costs of care, the care workforce will be trapped in unsustainable poverty, and large swaths of the nation will have no access to, or be forced to wait on waiting lists for essential services."

"Such wins are within our reach."

"There is no successful or sustainable economic agenda without women and without care," said the coalition, which vowed to "turn the frustration and disappointment of women and families into action and growing our power this election season."

When they return from the August recess, congressional lawmakers can no longer "ignore the needs of caregivers, care workers, and those in need of care," the coalition continued. "Investing in all three pillars of the care economy--child care, paid leave, and home and community-based services--is what people across the country need and what voters demand."

These items "must be at the top of the national agenda going forward," the coalition added. "We know how broadly this issue is felt, and we know the power of women's vote. We expect a clear acknowledgment that this is unfinished business, and we demand meaningful commitments and action from the [Biden] administration and Congress to urgently advance these policies."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wa.), for her part, said that the Congressional Progressive Caucus she chairs "will not stop fighting for the pieces left on the cutting room floor: Medicare expansion, home care, pre-K, universal child care, housing, workers' rights, immigration justice, and for affordable insulin for all, after Republicans outrageously stripped it from the bill."

"With our continued commitment, engaged movements across the country, and two more Democrats in the Senate," she added, "we can ensure the full agenda the American people voted for in 2020 is enacted into law."

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