U.S. Secretary of Labor visits Lehigh Valley to promote Biden Infrastructure plan

Written by on June 3, 2021

U.S. Secretary of Labor visits Lehigh Valley to promote Biden Infrastructure plan

By Tyler Pratt

June 3, 2021

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaking during his visit to the Lehigh Valley on June 2. Photo | Tyler Pratt

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh paid a visit to the Lehigh Valley on June 2 as part of an ongoing effort to promote President Biden’s $2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan. And the trip emphasized the importance of home health care workers.

“We should make sure when our loved ones go into a long-term care facility that they get the treatment and the care and the love and the respect,” Walsh told a crowd gathered on the steps of the Lehigh County Courthouse. “And that the person that’s helping them and the person who is working with them is treated with respect as well. With a good wage, with health care, with a pension and the opportunity to raise a family.” 

The former Boston mayor told a crowd of home care workers that Biden’s proposal includes $400 billion dollars earmarked to support long-term care.

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“This is an investment in you,” Walsh says. “This is an investment in your career. This is an investment in the people you take care of to make sure we have an industry that takes care of our loved ones.”

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) says the plan takes a holistic approach to defining what American infrastructure means. 

“[People] say ‘Oh when we’re talking about infrastructure we’re only talking roads and bridges,’” Casey says. “Here in Pennsylvania a lot of people need more than a physical bridge to get to work. They need caregiving to get to work.” 

Walsh and Casey were flanked by area union leaders and members of the Service Employees International Union. Workers like Lynn Widener shared stories of long hours, low pay and going into debt to provide round-the-clock care to homebound Pennsylvanians. 

“I make $12.57 an hour,” Widener says. “I work 60 hours a week in home care. I still have to get a part time job in order to pay bills. I still live paycheck to paycheck and also have to pay health insurance out of pocket.”

Walsh takes care of her roommate Brandon Kingsmore who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Kingsmore thanked the care givers in the crowd, saying he’s relied on homecare for years.

“Homecare workers put their lives over mine,” Kingsmore says. “They care for me every day so I can have a normal life.”

Kingsmore and Widener said they support Biden’s jobs plan. 

“Home care workers cannot take care of you if we cannot take care of ourselves,” Widener said. 

Biden’s efforts hit home for U.S. Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-Lehigh).

“Anybody who doesn’t believe that the caring community is part of the infrastructure has never had a family member in need of home care,” Wild said. 

Wild shared her experience caring for her mother following her diagnoses with an inoperable brain cancer in 2014. 

“We had to make sure [my mother] had round the clock care and the last thing in the  world we wanted to do was to put her in a nursing home for what we knew were going to be the final months of her life,” Wild says. “Because of home health care workers we were able to bring [my mother] to my home in Allentown where she lived out the rest of her days.”

Wild and Casey say they would work to try and get Biden’s legislation through their respective chambers, but prospects for the president’s proposal are uncertain. Many Senate and House Republicans have denounced the cost and disagree with Biden’s definition of infrastructure. 

Matt Yarnell, President of Lehigh Valley Members of the Service Employees International, told the crowd getting Biden’s plan passed was going to take work. But he also called it “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“It’s going to take a groundswell of consumers, of voters of Pennsylvanians,” Yarnell says, “Everyone coming together to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We have to be there for those who care.”

Walsh’s trip to the Lehigh Valley is the second from a Biden Administration official in less than a month. The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, paid a visit to Allentown in early May to highlight how small businesses could benefit from Biden’s plan.

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