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As a home-care worker in Shinnston, I love my job serving our close-knit community’s seniors and people with disabilities. But, even though my job involves caring for and feeding others, I’m struggling to access health care for myself and put food on my own table.

That’s why I’m passionately supporting President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create thousands of good, middle-class union jobs for West Virginians, and make sure we can provide quality home- and community-based care for our state’s rapidly aging population.

My home-care client is a senior who has a range of medical issues and uses a wheelchair. I support all her daily activities so she can live with dignity and independence.

The day doesn’t end when I leave my client’s house. She calls me another dozen times or so to ask when to take her medications, how to operate appliances and other questions. I’m always more than happy to answer the phone and let her know that I’m here for her.

That’s because — as with most home-care workers and their clients — we’ve become like family, and it feels good knowing she’s well taken care of.

Home-care workers have always been essential for our clients’ physical, emotional and mental well-being. But, during the pandemic, we’ve also become crucially important for keeping our state’s parents, grandparents and loved ones with disabilities safe at home.

Despite my vital work, I make only $10.25 an hour, and it takes my entire paycheck to pay my rent, car insurance and utilities. Sometimes, there’s too little money left over for groceries, so that’s where I skimp and cut back. I also lack health insurance and paid sick days, which is tough because my job is very physical, especially when lifting my client in and out of her wheelchair.

At 52 years old, I’ve literally worked myself to the bone. I can feel one of my hip joints grind together with every agonizing step.

Home-care workers have been shamefully undervalued and underpaid for centuries, because most are women and women of color. As a white woman, I recognize the racial injustices and gender discrimination that exist in the home-care system, which have kept workers of all races down for too long.

These working conditions cause high turnover and have created a severe workforce shortage. West Virginia’s population is the third-oldest in the nation, with more than 360,000 residents over age 65.

This has produced skyrocketing demand for home-care providers in our state and throughout the country, making it one of the fastest-growing jobs in America, but low wages make it very hard for families to find and keep qualified care workers.

To solve this crisis, home-care workers have been uniting together, calling on employers and elected officials to respect us, protect us and pay us. Finally, government leaders are taking notice of how pivotal care work is to keeping loved ones safe at home and allowing family members to work themselves.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan would invest $400 billion dollars in our nation’s care infrastructure, adding a million new care-giving jobs to address the care crisis. Home-care jobs would be transformed into lasting, union careers with family-sustaining wages, benefits and training so we can provide the highest standards of care.

The American Jobs Plan would generate paths to the middle class and make sure seniors and people with disabilities have access to the care they desperately need. From the bottom of my heart and soul, I’m urging Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and all our West Virginia congressional representatives, to strongly support this plan, which would be a crucial investment in care infrastructure and good jobs for our state.

Amanda Underwood is a home-care worker and grandmother who lives in Shinnston.

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