Healthcare worker with head in hands

Nearly a dozen New York state lawmakers joined home care advocates Wednesday demanding passage of a bill that would hike the minimum wage for home care workers.

“If we want to say that they are essential workers, we must pay them for their work and pay them for the risk they are taking on as frontline workers,” Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa (D) said during a virtual press conference.

The Fair Pay for Home Act, which would establish a base wage for home care workers at 150% of the regional minimum wage, was cut from the state budget last summer during budget negotiations. But advocates for the legislation see an opening for passing it now that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and the care worker shortage has escalated to a crisis level in New York due partly to the vaccine mandate.

According to PHI National, which tracks the home care industry, New York state will need to recruit at least 80,000 home care workers over the next few years. But with a median hourly wage of $13.80, more than 40% of the state’s roughly 450,000 home care workers live below the poverty line. The low wages and the dearth of home care workers are placing an increased burden on the families of the elderly and disabled, according to Adriana Powell of the Cooperative Home Care Association.

“Family caregivers often have to leave their jobs to provide care for loved ones, placing themselves and their families in financial jeopardy and putting a drain on the economy,” Powell said during the press conference.

The legislation would boost hourly wages to $15.00 in rural and suburban areas and $22.50 in the New York metropolitan area. A study by the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies found such a pay hike would add 20,000 home care workers annually over the next decade and raise $5.4 billion in additional revenues for the state.

But the higher wages could put a financial strain on home care agencies, already struggling with the burden of additional costs from the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

“As our most recent State of the Industry report shows, wages and benefits are among the highest impacts on an agency’s rising costs,” the Home Care Association of New York said in a statement earlier this year when the bill was introduced. “ And, providers have shouldered new, unanticipated costs, like personal protective equipment in the pandemic.”

The association also questioned whether the state’s underfunded Medicaid program, which funds home care for low-income elderly and disabled residents, could afford higher reimbursement rates.