In February, Senate Republicans introduced legislation called the Safe and Secure Staffing for Dental, Mental Health and Rehabilitation Workers Act, or SENDS. Just two weeks later, Democrats released their own version, also called the HELP Act, or the Health Safety and Disability Access Improvements for Dental Workers Act. I introduced the SENDS bill in the House with many other colleagues.
More than just healthy people, these workers are people who work in the most difficult jobs imaginable. They clean hospital and dental offices and hospitals. Take the Senate Democrats’ version of the HELP Act. It offers a weak version of bipartisan changes that are needed to protect and care for these staff, especially as they work in toxic, war zone-like work environments. And for some of the most vulnerable healthcare workers in our country, Senate Democrats are at least getting started on addressing their inequities.
A recent Department of Labor report found that between 2006 and 2016, only 59 percent of employment participants had qualified for the program for the 13-week period covered by the Worker Employment Program. The program is supposed to help train and transition these workers into new jobs that will provide them with a higher wage and improved benefits. Sadly, almost half of this group do not even enter the program because the waitlist simply isn’t high enough to satisfy employers.
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Senators Democrats’ version of the HELP Act doesn’t do much to help these workers. Instead, it would require the Labor Department to issue a rule based on the same changes as the Senate bill. Workers do need to earn more money while earning a job that has benefits, just like other federal government programs, but these changes will do little to help workers in need. This bill should be easily replaceable with a full-blown bipartisan bill that protects and supports our most vulnerable health workers and improves worker protections.
As I am sure most of you know, life is hard. Sometimes I want to drive my 15-minute commute to work, but instead I’m washing dishes and making beds in hospitals and dental offices. As a health care worker, I know the challenges of working in environments where dignity, respect and safety do not exist. I too want all workers in our country to be safe and secure, and we need to do everything in our power to do that. Sadly, recent proposals from our own party still propose policies that do just that.
If we truly wanted to fight for workers, we would stand up for the workers like my classmates and their families, and make sure this bill passed, but instead we have to rely on Democratic support to get this done. This is not acceptable. Instead, we need to get together and finally pass a Republican-backed bipartisan bill that puts these most vulnerable workers first.
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I call on my Senate Democratic colleagues to support Senator David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) bill. This bill would strengthen protections for dental and mental health staff. Sen. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Senators Merkley (D-Ore.) and Heinrich (D-N.M.) have the opportunity to pass legislation like this in their respective chambers. All they need to do is call their Republican colleagues to support a bipartisan bill that protects and improves the lives of people like my classmates.
If I had a single wish, it would be for my colleagues in the Democratic caucus to show the way to support my classmates and health workers like them, to lead on the issue of the most vulnerable workers in our country. There is so much work to be done. Instead of spending months on a bill that offers a flawed approach, I call on Democrats to support and push forward Perdue’s work-first-plans legislation that will help improve the lives of tens of thousands of frontline workers and their families.
We need to fight for the most vulnerable, and at the heart of that fight are the most vulnerable health workers we all rely on every day. It’s time to do more than find health-care solutions that take care of our latest trending schemes. It’s time to fix the broken promises of our Democratic leaders and push forward a strong bipartisan bill that improves the lives of people like my classmates.
Shannyn Moore is a Michigan-based advocate with the Department of Labor for health workers. She is also a member of the House Committee on Education and