New York’s home care workers deserve a living wage

My aunt Glorian Holmes lived to be 100. I always called her Lantlow because as a kid I couldn’t pronounce her name well. And when I grew up, I took care of my Aunt Glo as best I could. But for everything my busy schedule kept me from doing, Valerie, my aunt’s caregiver, did more than we could ask for.

Unfortunately, Valerie and thousands of other New York City caregivers are struggling financially. They struggle because you can do more money working at McDonald’s than you can as a home health aide. This is detrimental to us as a society and to home healthcare workers themselves. We all lose.

When my aunt was unable to walk or provide for her own basic needs, Valerie was there. She was there when I couldn’t be. Valerie volunteered to change my aunt’s diapers and sheets on weekends, even though the current rules say weekend help isn’t automatic. And Valérie has to chain several clients just to earn a living.

Currently, more than 40% of New York’s homeworkers live in or near poverty due to chronically low wages – an average of $12.50 an hour across most of the state. This is why our State is faced with the the worst home care labor shortage in the country – and it will only get worse as our population ages. Today in New York, 25% of home care patients said they were unable to find home health aides. We know that number will continue to grow until we start paying fair wages to home care workers and attracting workers to the growing sector.

We can and must do better than this for those who do so much to keep our loved ones home, safe and well cared for instead of being stored away in large institutions. I’m so happy that even though my aunt might have been unable to walk, she was still quick-witted and able to stay in the apartment she’s called home since the early 1970s – because of Valerie.

This is why I urge my colleagues to adopt the Fair Pay for Home Care Act (S5374, A6329) – a state bill that will pay home healthcare workers a living wage of at least $22.50/hour. Research has shown that if we increase home care wages to $22.50 an hour, we could bring 200,000 new homeworkers in the field over the next decade – and lift current home care workers out of poverty.

I support this bill because I know that Valérie, who showed so much compassion for my aunt in her last days, fully deserves it. Home care workers cannot live on what they are currently being paid. When we pass the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, we will improve the quality of life for the entire community.

J. Gary Pretlow represents Mount Vernon and Yonkers in the New York State Assembly.

Michael A. Bynum