Over the last few years – and increasingly since the #befair2directcare movement kicked off on social media – my office has been at the forefront of advocating for our region’s direct care and home health providers. These are the people who help care for our disabled family members, friends and neighbors, our home-bound elderly, our veterans. They work in our many regional not for profits and they help people with disabilities stay independent and in their homes. As a member since 2012 of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee and newly appointed Chair of the Assembly’s Task Force on People with Disabilities, I have fought and advocated for this essential workforce and the individuals and families they serve since I was first elected.
This is not easy work and the dedication of direct-care workers is unparalleled. Yet, they are among the lowest paid workers in the state. These low wages, and new constraints on the organizations that they work for, mean that many of the committed and compassionate individuals who have done this challenging work in the past are now making the choice to take jobs at fast food businesses, for example, with their higher minimum wages. This has resulted in tremendous turnover and instability in a sector that serves people who really need continuity and security from their caregivers.
To help address this crisis, the Assembly has included $45 million in its budget proposal to support this vital industry. This funding will support a living wage for these workers, which will, in turn, help ensure patients receive the experienced, consistent personal care that they need and deserve. Further efforts are needed to address transportation challenges for care workers in rural communities and to help “professionalize” this service work – often dominated by women and immigrants – to ensure it is valued appropriately. Indeed a recent story in the NY Times noted the field of home health aides “is expected to grow 38% by 2024, faster than most other occupations, thanks in large part to the aging baby-boom population.”
To be as informed and responsive as possible to the needs of patients, workers, and agencies, our office has convened a new Human Services Advisory Council, chaired by former Anderson Center for Autism CEO Neil Pollack, which includes representatives from local direct-care agencies. The number one issue discussed at our initial meeting was workforce stability. This cuts across all agencies and impacts thousands of individuals in our region. The Assembly has taken a first step in addressing the problem by providing funding in its budget proposal, but this funding must be included in the state’s final budget, which is due on March 31st.
This wage issue is also hurting the growing consumer-directed personal assistance program which allows those with physical disabilities to recruit, hire, supervise and, when necessary, terminate his or her own caregiver. This workforce also faces long hours, high stress, and low wages; oftentimes these individuals are caring for family members or loved ones. The Assembly has addressed this issue in the budget by ensuring Department of Health funding is directed to the workers where the money is needed most.
The state has a responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable of its citizens – including those with physical or developmental disabilities – have access to quality, consistent, accessible care. The Assembly has lead through our budget proposal and my office will continue to work hard over the next two weeks to ensure this funding is included in the state’s final budget. I hope you will join me in this fight.