By Jason Cohen, Bronx Times

Being among the lowest paid workers in the state, averaging just $22,000 annually, lawmakers are pushing to pass legislation that would provide what they consider a more respectful wage for New York home care workers.

Facing the worst home care shortage in the nation, more than 300 faith leaders from across the state recently sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul pleading for the passage of the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, which would raise home care wages to at least $35,000 a year on average. Currently, more than 40% of New York’s home care workers live in or near poverty due to chronically low wages — 57% rely on public assistance.

The Act would wipe out the home care shortage within five years, create 200,000 new jobs and pay for itself by moving workers off of state programs like food assistance and other social services, according to study of the proposal by CUNY. Between 2021 to 2040, New York state is projected to grow by just 3%, but the 65-and-over population will grow by 25%, while the number of adults over age 85 will grow by 75%.

Over the next 10 years, the Public Health Institute estimates that home care, including consumer-directed personal assistance, should add more new jobs than any other occupation in the state. The consulting firm Mercer predicts that despite this rapid growth potential, the state will face a shortage of at least 80,000 home care workers by 2025.

“It’s been 13 years of working in an invisible workforce,” said Sandra Diaz of the 1199 SEIU Bronx home care workers union. “It’s time for us to be recognized and valued because what we do is essential to the care of the elderly and the people who can’t take care of themselves. We are there on a daily basis to bathe them, feed them and keep them company.”

Diaz, of the South Bronx, told the Bronx Times she is sick and tired of being mistreated. Home care workers currently make minimum wage, but Diaz said she wants a $22 an hour wage. They work long shifts, are on their feet all day and should be fairly compensated, she said. Sometimes, Diaz, even takes on two to three clients a week just to make ends meet, she said, adding that many people have left the industry because of the lack of pay.

According to Stuart Marques, a spokesman for 1199 SEIU, roughly 140,000 New York state home care workers left the industry in 2021.

“We’re fighting for higher pay; we can’t go paycheck to paycheck,” said Diaz, 48. “I’m going to keep fighting until I can’t fight anymore.”

The legislation, if passed by the state Legislature, would set a minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for providers, ensuring that home care agencies’ administrative costs and home care workers themselves are properly paid.

Bolstering the case for an increase in wages is a recent study by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies and funded by the state Office for the Aging that concluded the proposal would create almost 18,000 new jobs in local economies through increased spending capacity of these home care workers. The state would see increased sales and income tax collections and savings from public benefits totaling $7.6 billion, putting it on track to be one of the most successful economic development programs in the state’s history, according to the study.

Progressive U.S Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whose district includes the Bronx and portions of Westchester, said the industry has been neglected for years.. People who risked their lives during COVID-19 and are on their feet all day helping sick or disabled people should not have to live paycheck to paycheck, he said.

“Governor Hochul, we strongly urge and strongly encourage you to do the right thing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” he said. “Home care workers have the right to a prevailing wage, a right to have paid leave and a right to have universal health care.

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