Home care workers, their advocates and several New York state senators gathered virtually Wednesday to denounce Governor Andrew Cuomo for blocking the Fair Pay for Home Care Act in the new state budget. A New York congressman who joined the virtual press conference says federal help could be on the way.
Home-care worker Samarauh Person is with Cooperative Home Care Associates.
“I have to work four jobs to be able to pay all of my bills. The cost of living is so high here in New York. My rent is $1,500 a month. And that’s about how much it costs just to live somewhere decent in New York,” Person says. “My transportation is $135 a month for the metro card. The phone and cable are over $200 a month, health care insurance over $100 a month, and food, forget about it.”
She earns $15 an hour in the Bronx as a home-care worker. First-term Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York’s 16th District:
“No one should have to work four jobs to survive,” Bowman says.
Bowman says it’s time to grow the care economy or, as he puts it, soft infrastructure.
“We introduced the Care for All agenda resolution about a month-and-a-half ago, I believe. We’ve gotten 35 co-sponsors so far. We’re supported by 80 organizations across the country,” says Bowman. “And as you all have seen, as part of the next piece of the infrastructure package, the next part of the American Rescue Plan includes $400 billion for our health aides, which is huge.”
A state Division of Budget spokesman points to the proposal from the Biden administration Bowman mentions, noting the $400 billion as part of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan would include a wage increase for home-care workers. He says, meanwhile, the enacted budget appropriates the $1.6 billion in enhanced Medicaid reimbursement to community-based services. Democratic state Senator Shelley Mayer represents part of Westchester County.
“And that it just unacceptable, that you are working full-time in this job and you cannot afford to have an apartment in the Hudson Valley or the Bronx or anywhere else or a home or a co-op on this salary alone,” says Mayer. “We have to change that. We will change that.”
Kendra Scalia of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York state is also a Hudson Valley leader of the New York Caring Majority. She says the $12.50 an hour rate in the Hudson Valley leads to turnover.
“Paying home-care workers a living wage would address the state’s worst in the nation home-care shortage and allow seniors and people with disabilities to stay out of dangerous nursing homes and age safely with dignity in their own homes,” says Scalia. “Yet since the beginning of COVID, Governor Cuomo sought to protect nursing home owners at the expense of residents and their families. He prioritizes nursing homes over home care by making incremental adjustments to nursing home policies rather than making the necessary systemic changes to our long-term care system by investing in home care, a safer and a more preferred alternative.”
She also receives home care as a person with disabilities.
“My reality right now is that I’m unable to receive assistance with all of my needs because I just can’t fill the shifts,” Scalia says. “This means that some days I have help eating just once per day, I can’t shower as frequently as I would like and I often skip therapies that are designed to maintain my health.”
Rachel May, chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, sponsored the Fair Pay for Home Care Act in her chamber. The measure would have raised the base pay rate for home-care workers to 150 percent of the minimum wage, or $22.50 an hour.
“Even though it was a big ask, $624 million is a lot of money in the budget, and everybody’s got their own priorities and there’s always some jockeying, but I didn’t hear anybody push back against this,” May says. “It was something the Senate Majority really truly supported and will continue to support.”
She and others on the call praised state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for championing the Act. Fellow Democratic Senator Michelle Hinchey:
“You all know that this issue is highly personal to me. Before my father passed away in 2017, we relied on home-care workers with the help that he needed. They were our lifeline,” Hinchey says. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done. And home-care workers allow family members to be family members.”
Tyler Tunison is a home-care worker in Kingston.
“In July, fast-food workers, they’re going to be receiving minimum wage at $15 an hour. And I’m not against anybody’s fight at all. I think everybody deserves a living wage and to be paid fairly, but, when that happens, I’d be able to take just about any entry-level job and, within a year, I’ll be making more, I’ll have more benefits and everything, and that’s definitely not something I want to do," says Tunison. "I want to stay in this field, but, in the future, with a growing family five years down the line, I don’t really see any way that I could feasibly stay in the same position with receiving the same rate of pay and support my family.”
Becky Preve is executive director of the Aging Association of New York.
“But you cannot expect someone to make the some money that you would make at a fast food or a grocery store to go into a home to provide love and care and direct personal hands-on services to people that depend on it,” Preve says.
She says raising wages helps the economy.
“You look at the economic benefit of direct-care workers actually being paid a living wage,” says Preve. “You then see the economy grow through the purchasing of homes, being able to purchase vehicles, goods and services in the communities, not having to depend on social service benefits or working four jobs moving forward.”
State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, Liz Krueger and Jessica Ramos, all Democrats, also participated in the virtual discussion.