Loretta Copeland, 81, of Harlem, needs home care five days a week. Aides help her move, bathe, cook, and sleep safely — all the while assuaging her loneliness. Yet due to New York’s home care labor shortages, currently the worst in the nation, Copeland gets support only one or two days a week. “Sometimes I feel angry. I worked all my life, and now I can’t even get help. That bothers me.”
This week, in testimony before a joint legislative budget hearing and on a call with Inequality.org, New York Caring Majority Coalition and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice leader Bobbie Sackman spoke in plain terms: “We’re an aging society. We have more people with disabilities and illnesses because of Covid-19. We have family caregivers providing $31 billion of free care and they need help. And most importantly, we have home care workers – women of color and immigrant women — working for poverty-level wages. That is a state policy of neglect and the feminization of poverty. And it has to end now.”
Enter the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, tirelessly advocated by Sackman and Caring Majority. If included in the state’s 2023 budget, the law would mandate that home care workers earn at least 150 percent of the regional minimum wage, raising their wage floor to between $19.80 and $22.50. Currently, in many New York counties, home care workers earn a minimum wage of $13.20 an hour — less than they would make while working at McDonalds.
The “carefully written” legislation, Sackman explains, includes a funded mandate: a plan to set a minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for providers, ensuring that home care agencies’ administrative costs and home care workers themselves are properly paid.
A March 2021 CUNY report concluded that the Act would annually net over $3.6 billion for the state and would quickly eliminate the labor shortage – generating tens of thousands of new jobs for a workforce that is currently 90 percent women, 67 percent immigrants, and 75 percent women of color. Investing in this workforce, the report concludes, would “advance racial and gender equity – while also generating large-scale economic benefits for the state.”
Advocates won majority support from the State’s Assembly and Senate, some Republicans included. But Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul has yet to accommodate Fair Pay for Home Care in the budget, which her team will finalize in the coming weeks. Instead, she has proposed one-time bonuses for care workers at a maximum of $3,000.
“You’re living with poverty level wages and a bonus is going to take you out of poverty? A bonus is going to attract you to this kind of work and keep you in this kind of work?” Sackman counters. Bonuses could also create benefits cliffs for their recipients, as an influx of cash can jeopardize eligibility for Section 8 housing, Medicaid, SNAP, and other forms of vital public assistance upon which a majority of the workforce relies.