Caregiving Questions with Senator Ernst

By Sen. Joni Ernst

What role do family caregivers play in the US? What does it mean to be a caregiver?

The role of our caregivers is absolutely critical to families across the United States. Look no further than in Iowa, where more than 300,000 people serve as family caregivers for a loved one, often while balancing the needs of a full or part-time job. It’s a selfless task to take on the responsibilities of looking after and caring for those who need it, and it’s one that comes from a place of compassion and sacrifice. These are folks who truly care about their loved ones and who are willing to take on the challenges that come along the way.

Why does caregiving more often than not fall on women? Is caregiving a women’s issue?

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, women had been taking on caregiving duties in the household at a much higher rate than men. Since the start of the pandemic, however, it’s been women who have had to bear the challenges of these tasks in a disproportionately higher way. This has come at the same time as the pandemic has hit women in the workforce hardest – with women losing over two million jobs as of last spring, or nearly one million more than our male counterparts. These staggering statistics make it all the more clear why we need to get this bipartisan legislation passed.

The Caregiver Tax Credit has some weighty bipartisan support. How did the four Senate co-sponsors (Senators Ernst, Bennet, Capito, and Warren) come together? What is it like working together?

My focus and number one priority is always getting things done and solving problems for Iowans, and all Americans, and working with anyone to do it. I’m proud that our legislation has strong bipartisan support from lawmakers who represent a broad and diverse segment of America, from small towns to big cities. It represents the fact that caregiving is an issue that transcends party lines and state lines.

What is the next step in the legislative process for the bill?

Over the last year and a half in particular during the pandemic, we’ve seen more clearly than ever before how critical caregiving is for so many families and households. With the strong bipartisan support that the Credit for Caring Act enjoys, we are hopeful that now is the time for Congress to act and to advance this legislation.

What can the Engage community do to support your work on behalf of caregivers?

As a US Senator, one of my main priorities has always been hearing directly from my constituents and holding regular town halls, which is why every year I complete what I call my “99 County Tour,” where I meet with folks in every single one of Iowa’s 99 counties. I just recently completed my seventh consecutive 99 County Tour. As a lawmaker, there’s simply no better way to represent the people I serve than to hear from them directly, so I can take their ideas to Washington. I think the best way to support this legislation is to voice your ideas to those who represent you. I can tell you that when I hear from my constituents, I take their concerns seriously, and I bring their voices to Congress.

Who inspires you on a daily basis?

My source of inspiration is my daughter Libby. I am so incredibly proud of who she is and the young woman she’s become. Libby is currently going through her final year at West Point and will soon be serving our country in uniform. When I look at Libby, I see the next generation of Americans, and it puts in clear terms how important it is that we work harder than ever to make sure they have a future and a country where they can be successful and raise a family of their own.

If you could have any job in the world for one month, what would it be and why?

Any job in the world? An airport tug operator!

Hear me out: this is such a critical job that requires precision and hard work, getting people to where they need to go every single day. Could you imagine the skill it takes! The whole operation relies on these folks, so they have to be dependable. God bless these men and women who do it! In another life, I’d be right there with you!

What is one thing you have seen, read, or heard that you would recommend to everyone?

One of my favorite books of all time is T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War which describes in detail the history of the Korean War using the personal accounts of those on the ground. It illustrates how when a military is unprepared the consequences can be devastating, sharing a lesson about the importance of readiness.

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