The Massachusetts Senate is pushing forward with its pursuit of an overhauled “intergenerational” care system.
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who unveiled the idea in an April 13 speech, said she doesn’t have all the answers. But, she wants care for people of all ages who need it to be affordable and accessible for families.
A kick start to that work, she said, may come Wednesday when the committee led by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, holds a hearing on the topic. Speakers from The Arc, Service Employees International Union, the American Association of Retired Persons and the business sector will share ideas, define needs and explore what roles different sectors can play.
“Everything is on the table,” Spilka said in a Tuesday call with reporters. While she calls the idea a “moon shot for Massachusetts,” she said it’s urgent to find ways to make it work.
“It’s too expensive if we do not do this,” Spilka said. “We’re losing so many women (as caregivers) working. We are losing their families. They are losing their progress. Their companies are losing having them contribute to the richness and diversity of the companies. Our economy is losing out.”
Hinds cited a 2015 estimate from the Massachusetts eHealth Initiative that there were 844,000 informal caregivers in the state. During the pandemic, many women left the formal workforce to prioritize care work — whether for a child, an elder or a person with a disability — much of which is not compensated in wages.
Spilka said she views intergenerational care centers as a possible “front door” or “one-stop shop” for families to find information and referrals for care options. Long-term goals include locating care for children, elders and people with disabilities at the same community-based center, she said.
She said some of the inspiration comes from the state’s family resource centers, which she helped establish in 2015. Those centers seek to help families with children under 18 access supports for behavioral and mental health as well as housing.
When one reporter asked if Spilka would consider a model in which businesses contribute financially to intergenerational care centers, like they do for paid family leave, she said she was “not ruling anything out.” Spilka said location, hours and affordability of care options should all be concerns as the economy recovers from the pandemic. Capping care expenditures at a percentage of family income and expanding subsidies to families, she said, could help with affordability.
She added that the present moment offers “a perfect opportunity to really plant the seeds” for the Senate’s work. President Joe Biden has suggested caregiving is a priority of his, and Massachusetts has more than $500 million from the American Rescue Plan aimed at supporting child care providers.
Hinds said he and Spilka both see raising wages for providers of care as a priority, although the details on how to get there have yet to be determined. Asked about a previous attempt to unionize center-based child care workers, Hinds said, “Focusing on the wages and the unionization of the industry is going to have to be a part of it, but there are multiple ways to get there.”
In a statement to The Eagle about supporting child care workers, Spilka said that “we know that there are areas where we can focus now,” although listening to those affected will be necessary to come up with ideas for long-term reforms.
“We can ensure that people are getting the training they need to fill in-demand jobs in the caregiving sector, either through vocational or mid-career training,” she said. “We can work towards providing living wages, comprehensive benefits and safe working conditions for all careworkers to prevent the enormous amount of turnover that happens in these fields.”