© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Campaign seeks higher wages for home care aides

Advocates are campaigning for higher wages for home care workers
Lucas Willard
Advocates are campaigning for higher wages for home care workers

Directors of Offices for the Aging of several upstate New York counties gathered to advocate for a pay increase for home care workers – a move they say will help keep more seniors at home and out of nursing homes.

“Who will help us as we age? Pay home care a living wage.”

Advocates joined Office of the Aging Directors from several upstate New York counties Wednesday in Schoharie. The event served as a kickoff for the Fair Pay for Home Care Campaign.

Executive Director of the Aging Association of NY State Becky Preve cited statistics from a CUNY Graduate Center study on the state’s home health care aide workforce.

“Fifty-seven percent of New York state home care workers are on public assistance, and 49 percent live in or near poverty. We really need to raise these wages now,” said Preve.

And demand is projected to grow, with the state’s 65-and-up population projected to increase by 25 percent in the next two decades.

The campaign backs statewide legislation that would raise the pay for workers in a sector that advocates say is facing a worst-in-the-nation employment shortage.

Under a formula included in the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, the minimum upstate wage for home care workers would go from $12.50 to $22.50.

David Jordan, Director of the Montgomery County Office for the Aging, said when he stepped into his position nine years ago, there was a perceived lack of funding to support home care services. Today, he says the problem is not funding, but a dwindling workforce.

“We subcontract with five different home care agencies, large and small, and many of the referrals that we make to these agencies are unable to be fulfilled because these agencies do not have enough workers to meet demand for services,” said Jordan.

Counties across New York are struggling with waitlists of those in need. Some County Offices for the Aging, like in Columbia County, are beginning to hire their own home care workers.

Kevin McDonald is Director of the Columbia County Office for the Aging.

“We’ve hired our own home care aides at higher wages than what the people in our area have been getting. We’ve provided them with transportation vehicles to go from house to house. We pay them for their travel time. And it’s worked. Within three months, our waiting list disappeared,” said McDonald.

Schoharie County recently brought on its own home care aide and also contracted with a cleaning company, but county Office for the Aging Director Nancy Dingee says it’s still not enough.

“We’re trying to do everything that we can to provide services for older adults, but we still have people on our waitlists. And I think that that’s a theme for everybody, but I do feel for rural counties, it’s even more challenging,” said Dingee.

Preve said state leaders need to recognize the contributions by home health care workers – who often travel on their own dime without reimbursement – by passing the Fair Pay for Home Care Act. The campaign is also calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to include the bill in her upcoming state budget proposal.

“Depending on what you pay something really speaks to how you value it, and this has just been a completely undervalued sector until you talk to somebody that has had a home health aide in their life, either personally or with a family member, and then that conversation changes to, I’ve heard, ‘That home health aide was my angel,’” said Preve.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.