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OPINION: Here's how Build Back Better would help Southland families, lawmakers say
The SouthtownStar - 12/1/2021
Dec. 1—People in the south and southwest suburbs stand to benefit in many ways if the Senate passes the Build Back Better Act and President Joe Biden signs it into law.
The sweeping $1.7 trillion legislation addresses social policies and climate change. If approved as proposed, federal lawmakers would send $400 billion to states to provide universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds.
Another $200 billion would provide four weeks of paid family or medical leave to American workers for the first time. Up to $165 billion in health care spending would include a provision to boost wages for caregivers who look after senior citizens and children younger than 3 years.
The bill authorizes $555 billion to address climate change by funding incentives for solar panels and other clean energy technology. Additional funding would address gun violence prevention, expand access to affordable housing and cap some prescription drug prices, such as a $35 monthly limit on insulin.
Congress would fund the legislation by collecting more taxes from the rich, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, told several state lawmakers last week during a press call.
"This legislation is fully paid for by the big corporations and the wealthiest paying their fair share," Kelly said. "No one making less than $400,000 is going to pay more in taxes."
The legislation seems to have something for everyone in the Southland, from people in Hometown to Homewood to Homer Glen. The legislation would create jobs and help workers, said state Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex.
"Child care plays an essential role in our economy," Joyce said. "Child care helps parents stay in the workforce. This investment will be transformative for young rural families, for young urban families, throwing them a lifeline when options are limited."
Kelly enlisted state lawmakers to help explain the legislation days after the U.S. House passed Build Back Better Nov. 19 by a 220-213 vote. All Republicans and one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, opposed the bill.
State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, said the bill would fund programs and agencies that work to address the root causes of gun violence in parts of Chicago and some south suburbs by expanding employment, workforce training and other opportunities.
"Jobs reduce violence," Evans said. "People with disposable incomes and good jobs reduce violence. It's not a secret, but let's do it, and we finally have the resources to do it."
The legislation would help close gaps between the haves and have nots in education, health care, transportation, housing and other areas, said state Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin, D-Olympia Fields.
"We know during COVID there were disparities in health care that we've known all along but this has given us opportunities to address that," she said.
The legislation faces headwinds in the Senate, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona must support the bill in order for it to become law if all Republican senators oppose it.
Pundits have speculated Manchin and Sinema may demand some provisions be removed and the total cost lowered to win their support.
Some industry groups also are mounting opposition. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living Wednesday issued a joint statement saying the provision to raise wages for elder care workers amounted to an unfunded mandate that would force many nursing homes to limit admissions or shut their doors.
Many caregiver jobs barely pay more than minimum wage, Meyers-Martin said.
"I can't tell you how many people have approached me in Springfield about wages for home care workers for seniors as well as day care workers for our young children," she said. "We are investing and raising those salaries so that we can attract good, reliable, competent people to work in those areas instead of losing them to Amazon because we have not been competitive."
Many people, including some state lawmakers, seem to conflate the social and climate change provisions of the proposed Build Back Better Act with the guaranteed programs of the $1.2 trillionInfrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that both houses of Congress passed with bipartisan support and that Biden signed into law Nov. 15.
During Kelly's press call, state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, talked about how funds for workforce development in the Build Back Better bill would relate to good paying construction jobs created through the infrastructure law.
"Right now we don't have enough trained people," Davis said. "We have to work aggressively to make sure that training programs that are working on the soft skills and giving them the basic skills to work on a highway project, as well as the union training programs which provide the more intense skills necessary to do this work, that they are ramping up their opportunities, opening doors, getting their programs open, in particular as it relates to people of color."
It is understandable if people are confused by how the two pieces of legislation relate to one another. Initially, Democrats in Congress proposed bundling all the measures into one bill.
However, centrist moderates were queasy about some of the social and climate change programs, while progressive Democrats initially refused to support infrastructure spending until they reached a deal on social and climate change programs.
Kelly's office Wednesday invited residents of her 2nd District to call in to a telephone town hall at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, to learn more about the infrastructure and Build Back Better legislation. Constituents may register at robinkelly.house.gov/live.
Although Congress authorizes federal funding for programs, it's up to lawmakers in Illinois and other states to decide specifics on how funding is distributed, Kelly said.
"The money is coming to you guys," Kelly told legislators during last week's press call. "You guys will have a lot of say on where and how and with whom the money is spent."
During the call, I asked Kelly about gun violence prevention and what she thought about the 30 homicides this year in south suburban Harvey, all due to gun violence. Kelly has been among members of Congress calling for measures to address gun violence, and Build Back Better incorporates some of her legislative proposals, she said.
"One homicide is too many," she said. "We can't law enforce the problem away. We have to invest in communities. We have to get to the root causes of the problems."
Kelly, who also chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois, has served in Congress since 2013. Gun violence has been among her signature issues as a legislator.
"People need jobs and job skills," she said in response to my question about Harvey. "They need roofs over their heads. They need food to eat. They need mentoring. They need therapy in some cases. One is too many and 30 is certainly too many."
Ted Slowik is a columnist with the Daily Southtown.
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