NY Rep, State Lawmakers Launch A Campaign To Raise Wages For Home Care Workers | WAMC

NY Rep, State Lawmakers Launch A Campaign To Raise Wages For Home Care Workers

Feb 10, 2021

Planning to introduce legislation on the issue, a New York congressman, state legislators and advocates launched a Fair Pay for Home Care campaign Tuesday. And there’s a report on the impact of raising wages for home-care workers, who are in high demand but deterred by low wages.

Democratic first-term Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York’s 16th District says, as evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to center caring on both the state and national level.

“If we don’t center care, this economy will never grow again, will never thrive again and will never more forward,” says Bowman. “We have to center care as the rebirth of the American economy, and center and build an economy that focuses on well-being and fulfillment and love and joy, more so than we focus on profit and Wall Street and concentrating wealth in the hands of a few.”

For him, it’s personal.

“But my older sister is a healthcare worker, is a health aide, and she’s been working in that space for about 15 or 20 years, and she still is only earning minimum wage, and she still struggles to get health care for herself,” Bowman says.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is first-term state Senator Michelle Hinchey, a Democrat from the 46th district. She also brought a personal anecdote, relating to her late father, Congressman Maurice Hinchey.

“Before my father passed in 2017, we needed home-care aides to help with long-term care. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration that required extensive long-term care. And living in a more rural community, it’s really hard to find,” Hinchey says. “We need to make sure that our home-care workforce is a key part, is a pillar of our build-back strategy from COVID.”          

Rachel May, chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, is sponsoring the Fair Pay for Home Care Act in her chamber.

“This bill will raise the base pay rate for home-care workers to 150 percent of minimum wage, while making sure that the whole system of how we support this sector is made more sustainable,” says May.

Fellow Democrat Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee, is sponsoring the legislation in the Assembly.

“New York has been suffering with a, with austerity funding of human services, particularly healthcare, particularly home care, for years and years now,” Gottfried says. “It’s not just the COVID-19 recession that is causing this downsizing of funding. It’s a long-term problem.”

They say the bill aims to alleviate home-care shortage crises and keep senior citizens out of nursing homes, and people with disabilities living independently. The bill has not yet been formally introduced. Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Aging Ron Kim says older adults should be able to live with dignity in their communities.

“And once and for all, we can fight the ageism that have blindsided us all during this pandemic,” Kim says.

The Queens Democrat is also a co-sponsor of the bill.

“And home care is not just about protecting our older adults and elderly, it’s about striving toward a caring economy,” says Kim. “It’s about creating a pipeline of quality jobs in the care sector that have gone too long devalued and unvalued.”

State Senator Shelley Mayer, a Democrat from the 37th district, also backs the bill.

“You know, I used to say, as someone who represents about half of Westchester, that if you stood on Central Avenue on any day, the main thoroughfare with Bee-Line, before there was COVID and even in COVID, who were the majority of people you saw?  Women who were going to home-care jobs, particularly in homes in northern Westchester or from the Bronx or Yonkers or Mount Vernon, predominantly women of color making below minimum wage and having to live in a community where the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is close to $2,000,” Mayer says.

New York’s care sector is 91 percent female and 77 percent people of color. That’s according to PHI, which promotes quality direct care jobs as the foundation for quality care.

Isaac Jabola-Carolus is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies, and co-author of a report that examines the impact of raising wages for home-care workers. He says economic benefits, such as income and sales-tax revenue, would far exceed the costs.

“We estimate that it would cost approximately $4 billion annually to fund these increases. That’s significant but, in perspective, that represents just over 1 percent of total annual spending within New York’s healthcare system,” Jabola-Carolus says. “This cost includes a direct wage increase itself, the cost to ensure that workers who would lose Medicaid coverage at higher wages would continue to have health insurance, and increased employer payroll taxes and costs, such as disability insurance premiums.”

He says the full report will be published later this month.

“Based on the latest statewide projections we have, for 2018 through 2028, rising demand means that the number of home health aide and personal care aide job positions will grow by 265,000. This includes home-care workers and aides in nursing facilities, but the explosive growth is driven by home care,” says Jabola-Carolus. “These occupations will add as many jobs to the state economy as will the next 40 largest occupations combined.”

He says the median hourly wage for home-care workers is $13.80, and the median annual income. $22,000. The report looked at impacts of raising home-care wages to $22 hourly, or $44,000 yearly in New York City; $19.25 or $35,000 on Long Island and in Westchester; and $16.50 hourly or $30,000 in the rest of the state.