05/12/2013 05:07 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

What Mom Really Needs for Mother's Day

Today we honor the women who have made an incredible impact on our lives, our mothers. This Mother's Day, I want to call attention to the role women are playing in long-term care. Women are the overwhelming majority of the workers providing long-term support to seniors and people with disabilities. As a result, women are the ones most affected by legislative decisions on long-term care.

Last week, Caring Across Generations brought mothers to Congress as an effort to raise awareness about long-term care. Kimi Lee shared her story about the struggle to care for her two daughters, one just 18 months old, and her mother, who suffered a stroke a few years ago. Lee realized early on that her mother would need 24 hour care, however most nursing homes are privately run and can cost up to $7,000 to $8,000 a month. Like many families, Lee can't afford such costs, and she is far from alone.

There are 12 million American adults who need long-term care and half of them are seniors and half are adults below age 65 living with disabilities. Often a family member finds herself having to quit work to act as a caregiver. A MetLife study estimated that the typical woman who drops out of the labor force to take care of a family member loses $143,000 in income.

What Lee's mother needs is a long-term care worker. In fact, we will require another 1 million direct care workers by 2018 if we are to meet the needs of our growing elderly and disabled population. But we will not have them if we don't provide decent wages, benefits and workplace conditions. Today, many of these care workers are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, or are not compensated for the cost of traveling from one job to the next. If we can spend over $3 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, surely we can find the money to meet the long-term needs of our people.

As a country, we can make the commitment to provide quality long-term services -- so that getting care doesn't depend on whether you are fortunate enough to have a loved one willing and able to provide it. We must invest in a quality workforce by creating good jobs, providing career ladders, and valuing direct care workers. The choices we make today won't just affect someone else -- they will affect virtually every American. At some point in our life, each of us is very likely to be a care getter or a care giver or both. This is why I introduced H.Res. 197, which calls for a comprehensive approach to provide affordable, long-term care services to meet the needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Today is Mother's Day and wouldn't it be great if we could give mothers an additional present - the present of knowing that our country has adopted an effective long-term care strategy. All of us have a stake in this, especially women, who make up the majority of those who need care and provide care either as a family member or home care worker. We can let our mothers know that we will keep working and mobilizing, educating and organizing until we are successful.