During debate on the state budget that begins July 1, the state Senate voted unanimously to add $6.1 million to give home care aides a small salary increase. The Senate tapped into some federal funds to raise the pay — but this was the first time since 2008 that these 17,000 workers got a wage hike.
The raise will amount to less than 75 cents per hour, because some benefit costs have to come out first — but any upward movement is important.
Consider the case of Toinsanita. She has been providing care to elders as a personal care homemaker for five years. She has worked for her current employer for two months. She is a 25 year old, single mother who lives in Springfield with one child.
Toinsanita earns $12 an hour. Last year, her gross salary — including benefits and additional compensation — was $16,000.
To help make ends meet, Toinsanita has worked several jobs with different agencies at the same time. She is currently looking for a second job. Toinsanita provides home care services to as many as three different elderly clients each day. She owns a car, but it often breaks down and she uses public transportation to travel to each of her clients’ homes when need be. Toinsinata and her child receive health insurance benefits through Mass Health. She would not have to work two jobs if she received adequate pay and benefits to support her family as a homemaker.
Or consider Diane. She is 59 years old, and works as a certified home health aide. She cared for both her mom and dad before they died — at home. Now she cares for older people as her daily job. She makes $11.50 an hour, and usually works 35 hours a week. Her total pay last year was $16,828. Her two kids are grown now, but if she was a mom raising two kids, what she makes would be 15 percent below the federal poverty level for a family of three.
Diane has health insurance through her employer. But she gets no vacation time, and she gets no sick time. If she wakes up and is not feeling well enough to visit her clients, she earns nothing that day.
She is almost old enough now to be a client of the home care program. She has been caring for her clients for three years now. Diane visits with four elders a day, traveling back and forth between Burlington, Woburn and Wilmington. She gets mileage, but it doesn’t cover the wear and tear on her car.
Diane has never had a raise. But like everyone else, she has to pay for rising gas prices at the pump, higher heating costs at home and groceries and utility bills. She says she loves the work she does with seniors — but when she looks at her paycheck, she worries about her future.
The home care program in Massachusetts is a circle of poverty; low-income younger women care for low-income older women. The legislature’s action to lift these women out of poverty is an important journey. But we have miles to go before we can say woman like Diane and Toinsanita are not being exploited. And all of us, as taxpayers, are complicit in this exploitation.
Al Norman is the executive director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 413-772-6289.