By: Michelle Del Rey
ALBANY — A new report indicates a significant percentage of vulnerable people are fighting to maintain their at-home care workers, with many losing the battle to low wages that persist because of the state’s reluctance to increase pay for aides, advocates say.
Approximately 74 percent of seniors and people with disabilities are unable to retain home care workers, according to a study authored by the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State.
Upstate, two-thirds of care workers earn $12.50 an hour. In July, the hourly rate for fast food workers rose to $15.00 an hour.
Currently, many people seeking help are using their own money to supplement additional wages for aides, leaving the industry in crisis.
Workers are normally paid through government funding poured into the Medicaid program. The report found that consumers are spending between $200 to $500 per week to supplement additional wages.
Still, that hasn’t done much to stop workers from quitting in droves due to the intense work involved with caring for a vulnerable patient and the inability to thrive financially. Over 40 percent of state home care workers live in or close to poverty levels due to the low wages.
Suggestions to remedy the program involve raising the minimum wage for aides to around $20.50 an hour or 150 percent of the minimum wage. Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, seeks to remedy the issue.
In an October news conference, state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins committed to making funding for aides a priority.
During a roundtable this week, Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, who is a co-sponsor of the Assembly version of the proposed legislation, discussed how as a registered nurse with experience in oncology, she’s seen patients go home with just one aide to handle all their needs.
“The work is backbreaking work. It is one of the reasons why we see such a high turnover rate amongst the workforce for home attendance,” she said.
Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s director of health policy, emphasized how the situation can be much more nuanced.
For example, workers in some parts of the state are entitled to extra wages. In Westchester County and Long Island, workers can earn $3.22 more an hour. In New York City, they’re entitled to $4.09 more.
When asked about the bill, Hammond said, “I would be curious to know whether they have addressed where that money is going to come from. I don’t think the state should be making decisions like that without thinking through the consequences.”
Bryan O’Malley, executive director of CPAANYS and a co-author of the study, said that the crisis is so great that there is a general consensus among politicians that something should be done about it, even if the solutions differ between parties.
“The question comes to whether there’s a political will to come up with the money,” he said.