John O’Connor

Congress still might take action to soften long-term care’s chronic staffing crisis. But rest assured, it won’t be by design.

The Democrats got a few wake-up calls last Tuesday. Their guy for governor lost in Virginia. And what looked like an easy gubernatorial victory in New Jersey turned into a real squeaker.

In both races, women voters chose Republican candidates in surprisingly robust numbers. It’s almost as if they were sending a message to Democrats: You might have forgotten about the promises you made to get elected, but we haven’t.

One of those promises made last year by presidential candidate Joe Biden (and many other Democrats on the ballots) was a commitment to paid family leave.

That intention was seemingly abandoned in the name of a greater good: the party’s sweeping domestic policy bill. Paid leave advocates were told the provision simply would not pass in the Senate, given swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) sudden antipathy toward social programs.

But if there’s one thing that will quickly grab a politician’s attention, it’s the realization that his or her job might be in jeopardy. By Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was announcing a major pivot: paid family and medical leave was back in play. The measure Democrats are now crafting is a four-week paid leave program. It weighs in at a cost of roughly $200 billion, give or take.

To be clear, none of the newfound support for such assistance is driven by a desire to ease the painful staffing realities now facing long-term care operators. It’s being reinserted in the hope that Democrats will avoid a midterm election massacre. Still, this sector still stands to benefit from its passage. Here’s why:

Most caregivers working in long-term care are, ahem, women. Women have children. And children, especially infants, are generally not capable of fully taking care of themselves from birth on. Nor do they usually have the capacity to get themselves to clinics or hospitals unaided. Those tasks generally fall on, you guessed it, their mothers.

Paid leave will give mothers working in long-term care a bit of a break. As a result, fewer of them may decide to permanently leave their jobs while they attend to the pressing, immediate needs of children who have the misfortune of being sick or young.

Now over the next few weeks, we will certainly be hearing many lawmakers claim that a paid leave provision goes too far. The reality is this: What’s being proposed doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Especially when compared to the kinds of support and assistance virtually every other First World country offers its working mothers.

Will paid leave provisions survive the sausage-making machine that is the 117th U.S. Congress? Maybe, maybe not.

But either outcome will carry costs we will all have to live with.

 John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s