BOSTON (SHNS)–With many workers “sandwiched” between aging parents and young children, Senate President Karen Spilka on Tuesday proposed a “moonshot” to reimagine an intergenerational care system that would support families, particularly women, who have been forced to give up careers to care for family of all ages.
Spilka, in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said the health crisis created by COVID-19 exposed many stress points in the economy for workers with families, including the struggle to care for both children and the elderly. The top Senate Democrat said she had been “particularly struck” by the economic impact the pandemic has had on women, suggesting that in Massachusetts the rate of women participating in the workforce has been set back by more than a decade to levels not seen since right after the Great Recession. “This is our shot to be a national leader in transforming the way we support caregivers – and careworkers – and build a thriving economy that works for everyone,” Spilka said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the importance of child care has been highlighted again and again as a vital cog in the economy that allows parents to fully participate in the workforce. But Spilka said the challenge goes beyond fixing the child care system to make it more affordable and accessible. “Childcare is just one piece of what many are calling a ‘caregiving crisis’ – a storm that has been brewing on our horizon for a few years, but which COVID-19 has turned into a full-blown tsunami,” Spilka said.
With billions of dollars in federal relief aid headed to Massachusetts from the “American Rescue Plan Act,” Spilka said the state is “well-poised” to make improvements around child care affordability and accessibility, but she challenged the business community to help lawmakers think broader about how their workers need to be supported at home. “That’s why I am proposing here today that we steward federal and state dollars to create a system of intergenerational care that provides a way to support, connect and integrate community-based care across all ages, with the goal of making intergenerational care accessible and affordable to all, while supporting the workforce to make it possible,” Spilka said.
The Ashland Democrat admitted that she was “not entirely sure yet” what an intergenerational care system would look like, but she said it could start with centers that serve as a one-stop hub for families to access information about child care, elder care, and before- and after-school programs, as well as mental and behavioral health services for people of all ages. These “Intergenerational Care Centers,” according to Spilka, could be modeled on the Family Resource Centers that were established in 2015 as an entry point for families with children under 18 to access behavioral and mental health or housing supports to keep children out of the juvenile justice system. “Too often, government tends to only do short-term planning, and not long-term. But I’d like to take this opportunity to propose our moonshot: long-term planning for Intergenerational Care Centers, which may not be realized until years in the future,” Spilka said.
Spilka has asked Sen. Adam Hinds, who is chairing a new special Senate committee focused on the post-pandemic recovery, to hold a listening session on the caregiving workforce, with an emphasis placed on hearing from women of color in this group who have been impacted economically by COVID-19. Spilka said that ICCs could start as information hubs, but eventually become facilities where child care, elder care and care for those with disabilities are co-located in one community-based center. She also suggested that caregivers could eventually be credentialed to work with more than one age or need group. She said the Legislature must also look at ways to ensure that caregivers are trained, paid good wages and supported with healthy work environments and mental health care so that they continue in these careers.
The Senate president’s speech comes less than three weeks after House Speaker Ron Mariano used an appearance before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to call for a large-scale borrowing effort to solidify the South Coast as a national hub for the offshore wind energy industry. The speaker also telegraphed a $10 million commitment to job training for careers in the offshore wind and clean energy industry.
House leaders on Wednesday will release their version of Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal for debate in two weeks, and Spilka said the Senate will follow as is customary in late May. “I think the timing might be the only normal thing,” Spilka says of the upcoming budget process, citing the unpredictability of tax revenues that have outperformed economists’ projections for months and the arrival of billions in stimulus funding.
Spilka said lawmakers are still working to understand how money from the “American Rescue Plan” can be spent, but reiterated what many Democrats have been saying for weeks about the Legislature wanting to play a more active role with the Baker administration in determining how those funds get spent. “We need to make key investments that will help grow our economy, protect the health and safety of our residents and make sure that we use it in the right way,” Spilka said.
The administration and legislative leadership have said they need to be careful not to use one-time relief funding to cover annual operating costs, and Spilka said she hopes some funds can be used to replenish what has been spent over the past year from the state’s “rainy day” reserve account.
Spilka also flagged the unsettled nature of a COVID-19 sick leave program that had been part of a larger unemployment insurance and business tax relief package, but was returned by Baker with amendments. “Our essential workers continue to need paid leave while they are still at risk of contracting COVID, or need to quarantine or recover from receiving a vaccination, and so I hope the governor will sign this important provision expeditiously,” Spilka said.
The president, however, did not indicate when the Senate might vote to return the paid leave bill back to Baker so that he could sign it, or if she supports any of his amendments. Spilka and Mariano have already said they don’t support Baker’s recommendation to exclude municipalities from the paid leave requirements in the bill.