New York bill would raise wages for home workers

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – It has become very difficult to find home health care in recent years, for people with disabilities and the elderly.

According to a report by the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association, nearly 75% of New Yorkers lost their home help last year. Many home health aides have cited low wages as the reason they leave the industry.

In the meantime, family members have stepped in to care for loved ones. A state Medicaid program allows some to be paid for such care, but many say it’s not enough to live on.

Crystal Brehm works as a peer advocate in Cortland, helping people transition from nursing homes to independent living. She herself lived in an assisted living facility before making the same transition. Matt Norton is Brehm’s significant other. One of the first things he liked about her was her generosity.

Matt Norton and Crystal Brehm. (Photo courtesy of Matt Norton)

“She keeps giving, giving, giving until she can’t give anymore,” Norton said.

Due to his disability, Brehm requires home care. Shortly after the couple started dating, the pandemic hit, exacerbating staffing shortages.

“With all the restrictions and everything shut down, she started having issues with some of her caregivers. And eventually they dropped like flies,” Norton said.

Out of necessity, Norton became Brehm’s primary caregiver. New York’s Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP), which allows people to hire their own caregivers, means he can get paid as Brehm’s assistant.

Norton is paid just over $13 an hour. But if Brehm needs to be hospitalized, which happened recently, Norton doesn’t get paid at all. A visit to the hospital can be financially destabilizing for the couple.

“At minimum wage you can’t really prepare for that, you can’t really put money aside for something like that. With her condition, it could take up to a month for her to be in hospital,” Norton said.

Norton could make more money in another job, but the couple can’t find full-time caregivers. Ithaca Area Assemblyman Anna Kelles says it’s because home care professionals are also paid too little.

“You have the fact that home health aides are not well paid. And then you have the problem that there aren’t enough. So that creates a situation where some people then become home health aides to care for a family member,” Kelles said.

Assemblyman Anna Kelles (Assembly District 125). (Megan Zerez/WSKG).

The Fair Pay for Home Care bill, currently in committee in the New York State Senate and Assembly, would raise the minimum wage for homeworkers to at least $22.50, or 150% of the minimum wage. highest in each region.

Kelles said the pay rise would bring more people into the profession.

“We have a demand that far exceeds the supply. Up to 100,000 people in the state who are actively seeking home health care cannot get it because we don’t have the labor supply in the state,” Kelles said.

For Norton and Brehm, a pay rise for home care workers could mean they no longer live paycheck to paycheck. The couple also want to get married, and they can’t in New York while Norton is Brehm’s housekeeper. With a higher salary to offer, they could find home care professionals.

And Norton, who has his own medical issues, said a higher salary could mean he could get some help.

“More than just a paycheck for me, it would mean getting better quality help and filling in the hours more easily so I don’t work as hard and burn out,” Norton said.

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