Hundreds of home care workers angry about their pay joined several lawmakers at a rally in the state Capitol on Monday to express their concerns about the impacts the governor's proposed budget will have on home care salaries.
Gov. Kathy Hochul's executive budget proposal released last week displeased dozens of lawmakers, including Democrats and Republicans, about the rate of pay for the state's roughly 100,000 home care workers. They say the next state budget must give a specific increase for home care worker wages, and if it does not, changes to the state's minimum wage would be a step backward for the industry suffering a labor crisis.
"We do toileting, meal prep, tube feeding ... medication, management, yet the state does not pay us enough and it's causing a huge worker shortage," said Zulma Torres, a home health care aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates in New York City. "Older adults and disabled people are not getting the care they need. Last year, the governor acknowledged we are in a home care crisis, but her budget shows she is actively choosing to worsen this dangerous shortage."
Pay increases of $3 an hour were allocated for home workers in last year's budget, but many workers from across the state maintain they have not seen those increases from their employers, and they don't meet demand to retain a high-quality workforce.
The state Department of Health informed plans to coordinate with their provider network and update their contracts with providers so New York home care workers received the intended pay raise.
Managed Care Organizations cannot legally keep this wage increase money due to Medical Loss Ratio requirements in accordance with federal regulations. Any provider withholding the increases would be violating federal requirements, according to Hochul's office.
"Gov. Hochul believes that all New Yorkers deserve to be paid fairly, including home health care workers, and there is nothing in her budget that would reduce wages for home health care workers," Hochul spokesman Justin Mason said in a statement Monday. "The governor's executive budget proposes raising the state’s minimum wage by the growth in the year-over-year Consumer Price Index for Wage Earners, and in fact, the governor secured $7.7 billion to increase wages for these workers over the next four years, which is something that won’t be impacted whatsoever by the minimum wage proposal.”
Democrats in the Legislature support tying the state's minimum wage to inflation in the 2024 FY budget, but the details of how and when will continue to develop until the spending plan deadlines March 31.
Advocates say other increases will take home care workers back to making the minimum wage as if last year's increases never happened.
"What we're saying to Governor Hochul is we are literally walking backwards," Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, a Democrat from The Bronx. "We're undoing everything — every bit of every stride that we made last year, we're undoing it with this budget."
Lawmakers are pushing back with legislation that would index home care worker wages to 150% of the state's minimum wage and new enforcement methods to require organizations to give workers the extra money.
Sponsor Sen. Rachel May stressed home care work is skilled health care work and should not be minimum-wage labor.
"I'm very upset about what is in the governor's budget this year," said May, a Syracuse Democrat. "We are going to fight as hard as we possibly can to make sure that we keep home care — the minimum for home care — above the minimum wage."
Home care workers in New York make an average of $22,000 annually, according to the legislation.
Lawmakers say home care workers need to be making 150% of the minimum wage in order to make a living wage and serve New York's aging population.
The state is expected to be 80,000 home care workers short of available positions within two years, according to labor estimates by the consulting firm Mercer.
The number of New Yorkers aged 65 and older will increase 25% through 2040, according to CUNY Graduate Center research.
Assembly Health Committee chair Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale, says lawmakers are proposing language in the budget to give the state comptroller the ability to audit insurance companies and plans to enforce the wage increases.
"They can't afford to stay in these jobs," Paulin said. "And then we have no one to take care of our loved ones, and we forced them into institutional care, which is more expensive and less humane."
Hochul has proposed expanding the Medicaid buy-in program for New Yorkers with disabilities in her proposed budget, and will submit a waiver so more New Yorkers with disabilities can work and still qualify for Medicaid coverage for home care.