Congressional Listening Session with Essential Workers Affected by the Pandemic
Workforce | December 15, 2020 | by Andrea Price-Carter
On December 9, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) held a virtual listening session to hear directly from American workers about the challenges that have arisen or worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic members of the Committee joined the session to hear from ten essential workers from various positions, who shared their compelling testimony on why Congress should support their plea for additional protections as they do their part to provide essential services during the pandemic. The panel included a domestic worker, teacher, grocery worker, firefighter, restaurant worker, airport employee, an unemployed woman who was forced to decide to stop working so she could adequately help her children with their virtual learning, and an experienced attorney who became unemployed during the pandemic.
Tisheia Frazier, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), from Pennsylvania, reflected on the challenges she faced while working at a long-term care (LTC) facility. She emphasized how the pandemic caused higher mortality rates among older adults, and how the rates of disease transmission impacted CNAs who are on the frontlines of caring for older adults. She also highlighted how women of color are overwhelmingly at greater risk since they are more likely to serve in CNA and direct care worker positions in long-term care settings.
Ms. Frazier provided context on how her facility experienced a high COVID-19 positivity rate among the residents and staff, and the mental anguish that she experienced with providing care for residents who were socially isolated from family and loved ones. She also shared that her facility ultimately closed. Nonetheless, she made a plea that Members of Congress provide direct care workers with higher pay, adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and hazard pay. She specifically asked how Congress expected to attract more people into LTC facilities if direct care workers are not paid a decent wage and also receive medical leave. Ms. Frazier ultimately asked Chairman Neal and Members of Congress to invest in direct care workers, who were experiencing significant work-related challenges prior to the pandemic.
An emergency department registered nurse from Nevada spoke about her 12-13 hour a day shifts, and how she typically works 14 days straight with no hazard pay. A respiratory therapist, who is employed at a public health hospital in Florida, shared how he frequently works with inadequate PPE and is not provided with paid sick leave when forced to quarantine when they have a contagious worker that has contracted the coronavirus.
Chairman Neal and Democrat members of the Committee reiterated how the House-passed Heroes Act would address several of the challenges that were identified during the session. In particular, the bill expands sick leave for health care workers, provides increased PPE and testing funds, funding for affordable childcare, and additional aid for state and local governments. They each vowed to continue to fight on behalf of the nation’s essential workers to ensure that their needs are addressed. They also encouraged the Senate to take immediate action to pass a much needed COVID-19 relief package.