Early one morning this past June, just before a Zoom meeting with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, I received a frantic text from Gemma Calinda, Hudson Valley organizer for the NY Caring Majority.
“Michael, sorry for this late notice, but can you lead the meeting this morning? My care worker hasn’t shown up, and I can’t get ready.”
The irony was painful.
We were supposed to discuss Fair Pay for Home Care Act with Mr. Cahill, and ask him to go beyond cosponsoring the measure to being more vocal about his support.
Gemma, a leader in this fight, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. But due to the low wages set by the state for home care workers—which Fair Pay is designed to remedy—she has constant problems finding competent, reliable workers.
Gemma is not alone. There is an urgent home care crisis in New York State, as well as across the country. In New York, 1 out of 4 people seeking care at home can’t get the help they need.
For Gemma, that makes doing her job more difficult, and at times, impossible. After all, for people with disabilities who have jobs or want to work, no help usually means no way for them to work. And for older adults who want to stay in their own homes, it can put terrible pressure on family members to provide that care, or worst of all, force loved ones into a nursing home.
It’s no wonder there’s a shortage of home care workers. Most Medicaid-funded home care workers earn minimum wage, which is a miserly $12.50 an hour in most parts of the state. By contrast, as of July 1, fast food workers in New York must be paid a minimum of $15 an hour.
That’s where Fair Pay for Home Care comes in. It would boost state funding so that thousands of home care workers would get 150 percent of the minimum wage, or up to $22.50 an hour. Note that if the minimum wage had simply kept pace with inflation, it would now be over $20 an hour.
When I last wrote about this for The River, back in February, it looked like Fair Pay for Home Care had a shot at being enacted. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had put a version of Fair Pay into her budget. But Cuomo didn’t bite, nor did the assembly.
The new governor, Kathy Hochul, and members of her staff appear to be far more friendly to Fair Pay. And as of this writing, 68 assembly members and 31 senators are on board as co-sponsors…and counting.
You can feel the momentum building. The NY Caring Majority, a consortium of several nonprofits, has sponsored four well-attended virtual roundtable events with elected officials around the state this fall. The Hudson Valley event, on October 18, featured nine state legislators—notably, six Democrats and three Republicans.
Why are Republicans, whose fiscal conservatism usually makes them less willing to back social spending measures, sympathetic to Fair Pay for Home Care? Well, as advocates point out, if Fair Pay passes, it can successfully address a host of issues that people across the political spectrum agree on:
- Funding an increase in pay will help retain and attract workers to a fast-growing field, with work that can’t be outsourced or offshored.
- With COVID deaths in the spotlight in nursing homes, the demand for safer care at home—already high—has accelerated, a trend that is expected to continue.
- Home care is significantly less expensive to the state than nursing home charges.
- Investing in a living wage for home care workers means they will have far less need for social services, such as food stamps.
- In fact, a study earlier this year by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies found that the combination of such savings, along with the increased buying power of higher wages, would result in a net gain for the economy.
Moreover, if Biden’s Build Back Better plan passes, several billion dollars for home care should be headed our way. This promise of federal funding would add even greater impetus for Fair Pay.
Since the episode last June, the picture for Gemma has improved, as she finally found a home care worker she can rely on…for now, at least. As for Assemblyman Cahill, he has stepped up, penning an op-ed in the Kingston Daily Freeman and adding his voice to the chorus at the Hudson Valley roundtable.
If you agree, let your voice be heard. The time is past due for Fair Pay for Home Care, and budget decisions are being made as we speak. The NY Caring Majority has a petition drive going to the governor and legislative leaders. Thousands have signed, but your support is needed. Please add your name today—it really makes a difference.
The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.