J. Gary Pretlow
My aunt Glorian Holmes lived to be 100 years old. I always called her Lantlow because as a child I couldn’t pronounce her name well. And when I grew up, I took care of my Aunt Glo as best as I could. But for anything my busy schedule prevented me from doing, Valerie — my aunt’s home health aide — did above and beyond anything we could ask for.
Unfortunately, Valerie and thousands of other home health aides in New York are struggling just to make it financially. They are struggling because you can make more money working at McDonald’s than you can as a home health aide. This is damaging for us as a society and for the home health care workers themselves. We all lose.
When my aunt was unable to walk or take care of her own basic needs, Valerie was there. She was there when I could not be. Valerie volunteered to change my aunt’s diapers and sheets on the weekends, even though current rules stipulate that weekend assistance is not automatic. And Valerie has to string together several clients just to earn a meager living.
Right now, more than 40% of New York’s homecare workers live in or near poverty due to chronically low wages — an average of $12.50 an hour in most of the state. That’s why our state faces the worst home care workforce shortage in the nation — and it will only grow worse as our population ages. Today in New York, 25% of home care patients reported they were unable to find home care workers. We know that number is going to keep going up until we start paying home care workers a fair wage and bringing workers into the growing sector.
We can do and must do better than this for those who do so much to keep our loved ones at home, safe and properly attended to instead of being warehoused in large institutions. I am so glad that although my aunt may have been unable to walk, she was still sharp in the mind and able to remain in the apartment that she called home since the early 1970s — because of Valerie.
That’s why I am urging my colleagues to pass 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 raise home care wages to $22.50 an hour, we could bring 200,000 new home care workers into the field over the next decade — and lift current home care workers out of poverty.
I support this bill because I know that Valerie, who showed so much compassion for my aunt in her final days, more than deserves it. Home care workers cannot live on what they are paid now. When we pass the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, we will increase the quality of life for the whole community.
J. Gary Pretlow represents Mount Vernon and Yonkers in the New York State Assembly.