Elder care is a Jewish imperative. So is paying home health workers a living wage

JFREJ Caring Majority Leader Bobbie Sackman writes for The Forward why NY needs #FairPay4HomeCare

By Bobbie Sackman

December 29, 2021

As a 21-year-old heading off to social work school, I watched my Bubby Jenny die within six months of being put into a nursing home following a stroke. My mother and uncle, her brother, felt helpless and were shattered by both the experience and by their mother’s bitterness toward them at sending her away. There was no care support at home for my grandmother or my family.

How we care for older adults and support family caregivers and home care workers is central to how we live our lives. It factors into how and for what we save, if we can work, where we live, our family relationships and the health and safety of the people who rely on us.

As the movement to increase wages has grown for workers statewide, family caregivers, older adults and people with disabilities understand home care workers — who are predominantly women of color and immigrant women — can’t be left behind. Providing fair pay for home care is a powerful way to show our moral commitment to the elderly and those who care for them. As we read in Psalms 71.9: “Do not cast me off in old age; do not abandon me as my strength fails.”

Funding for home care is widely popular, and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the NY Caring Majority are currently fighting to pass the Fair Pay for Home Care Act in the New York state Legislature. The momentum is there; we have bipartisan support in the state legislature — including strong support from Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins — but to win we need Gov. Kathy Hochul and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pledge their support as well.

The bill would increase home care workers’ wages statewide to 150% of the regional minimum wage and would keep pace with minimum wage changes in the future. For example, a $15/hour salary would grow to $22.50/hour. With higher wages, home care workers can continue their essential work, and we desperately need them to; there aren’t enough home care workers available for all the people who need help to hire someone. Over half of all home care workers in New York are on public assistance, and almost half live in or near poverty. Some make just $12.50/hour, less than the minimum wage for the state’s fast-food workers. It’s no wonder the state’s home care workforce is shrinking.

That’s why older adults, disabled people, home care workers and family caregivers have come together to advocate for a solution to the shortage. For Jewish New Yorkers, this is a continuation of the long history of communal investment in care for older adults and people with disabilities. Among the largest nonprofit agencies in NYC providing home care are Jewish agencies like the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA) and Selfhelp Community Services. Jewish community-based aging services agencies have been on the forefront of serving both Jews and a diversity of older New Yorkers for over 50 years.

Read the full piece in The Forward