Investing in Advocacy Work Is Good — for Everyone

Thursday, April 3, 2014
by Carla Washington, Executive Director, Direct Care Alliance
I have had some funders tell me that while they feel Direct Care Alliance (DCA) does worthwhile work, that they just don’t fund advocacy or community organizing because they fund direct services. My hope is that those funders that are only supporting direct services will begin to understand that supporting advocacy work can accomplish exponentially more, especially for the populations they care about.
Perhaps, if more funders understood that advocacy involves movement building where organizations like DCA, nurture, encourage and train low-income families to lead the very efforts that affect their lives. Without support from New York funders like The Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation, Open Society Foundations and Ford Foundation, DCA wouldn’t have been able to engage and empower direct care workers to speak on behalf of themselves to gain public policy wins that we’ve recently celebrated. Advocacy is more than testifying before elected officials or getting legislation passed. Not that these activities aren’t important. But, at the heart of advocacy work is training leaders, advocates and organizers to lead the very policy change efforts that will improve their lives.
In the case of DCA, the national advocacy voice of direct care workers in long term care settings, our advocacy activities involve actively empowering and engaging direct care workers. For example, through our Respect for Home Care Workers campaign, we recruited grassroots advocates–often in collaboration with AFSCME, Caring Across Generations, the National Employment Law Project, PHI, SEIU and other allies–-to ensure that worker, employer, consumer and other supportive voices were heard nationwide. Together with our ally organizations, we submitted editorials to newspapers and websites, brought workers to Washington, DC and to their state capitols to talk to legislators and policymakers, gave interviews to reporters, marshaled thousands of comments in favor of the rule for Department of Labor’s website, and gathered testimonials for our own blog and newsletter. The result of these powerful advocacy efforts was the announcement on September 17, 2013 by Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Thomas Perez about DOL’s final regulations extending basic labor protections to most of the U.S.’s over two million home care workers under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)!
In the coming years, targeted advocacy could have the greatest effect in dramatically cutting poverty rates to ensure that the economy works for everyone–starting with our fastest-growing workforces– direct care workers. What that must include is investing in organizations that advocate for quality jobs and strong programs that support families when they are struggling. Here are some current or proposed advocacy efforts to bring about policy changes that would improve financial security and stability for direct care workers and their families:
  • Advocacy is needed to ensure that Congress does not derail the final home care rule that recently extended federal minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers nationwide. Direct Care Alliance and our allies will also be helping the DOL to educate workers, consumers, and other employers about the rule, to make sure it is implemented properly.
  • We must urge Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which will give low-paid workers an urgently needed raise and boost the consumer spending that drives the U.S. economy.
  • We must urge Congress to enact immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented direct care workers, to reduce vulnerability to wage exploitation and abuse. (An estimated 20-24% of direct care workers are foreign-born, and many of them are undocumented.)
Affordable health insurance and other benefits
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes important steps to make health care affordable and accessible, but we need to ensure that it is implemented properly. After the Supreme Court ruled that states may opt out of expanding their Medicaid programs under the new law, about half of the 50 states chose not to do so, leaving millions of low-income people stranded without an affordable option. Medicaid expansion was also the foundation upon which many of ACA’s other initiatives were built. We need to urge states whose leaders are currently on the fence or have decided against expansion to expand their Medicaid programs.
  • The ACA is complicated, so most people need some assistance to understand their health care options under the new law and figure out how to get coverage. That help may come from individual navigators or from initiatives like Direct Care Alliance’s Get Direct Care Workers Covered campaign, which is helping direct care workers and other low-income residents of New York State find the coverage that best fits their needs.
  • We must urge Congress to pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would make paid family and medical leave available to nearly all of America’s workers.
  • We must also urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which will set a national paid sick days standard.
Safety net programs
  • We must urge Congress to oppose cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), which offers nutrition assistance to more than 47 million low-income individuals, including many direct care workers and their families.
What organizations need is your general support of direct services as well as advocacy and organizing that engages low-income families in becoming their own change agents in their communities. DCA looks forward to continuing to lead in the movement to improve life for the direct care workforce and the families they care for. We hope you’ll join us!
Carla Washington is executive director at Direct Care Alliance. Washington was a panelist for the February 6, 2014 PNY program “The Direct Care Workforce: Issues at the Intersection of Workforce, Aging, Disability, Health Care, Low Income and Disparity.”
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