Future of Home Care Workforce Caught in State Budget Snafus

Impasses over state budgets in Illinois and California are threatening to stymie those states’ home health care workforces during a crucial period of growth for the industry.

The Illinois House earlier this month voted to approve an $817 million spending plan that would temporarily fund cash-starved universities and other programs, according to the Associated Press. The budget would, among other things, allocate about $258 million to human services, which includes home care for seniors. However, the chances of the stopgap budget passing aren’t high, as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois has said he opposes it, the AP reports.

According to a new research analysis from PHI Research, the population of people over the age of 65 in Illinois is set to grow to 2.5 million from 1.9 million by 2025. There currently are about 81,200 home care workers in Illinois, and the state will need about 17,900 more home care workers by 2024 to keep up with demand, PHI noted.

But the state’s recent fiscal problems could make it difficult for companies wanting to attract those new workers.

“Some care providers have faced steep funding reductions from the state over the past two years, largely the result of an ongoing budget impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois and the state legislature,” PHI wrote. PHI cited the ongoing struggles of Chicago-based Family Home Services as evidence of the problem.

One way to help alleviate a workforce shortage would be to make those jobs more attractive for workers, but the scarcity of public funding could halt any move in that direction before it starts.

“Recruiting adequate numbers of home care workers to fill these jobs is becoming increasingly difficult, in part due to the poor quality of home care jobs: wages are low and access to employer provided benefits is rare,” PHI’s report added.

Currently, the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25. Though the state is considering whether to bump its minimum wage up to $15 per hour, some small businesses fear the move could do more harm than good, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Another potential snag, as first reported by The State Journal-Register, is that a new rule may prevent home care workers from logging more than 40 hours per week. The purpose of the rule, which could be implemented by late summer, is to cut state costs and provide clients with improved service, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. But many state democrats fear the rule could become a “recipe… for tragedy” because it isn’t clear how caregivers will be denied or granted overtime.

Chaos in California

Illinois is not the only state with budget issues, as home care has become the center of a standoff in California, the LA Times reported. The most recent impasse revolves around a dispute between state and county governments on how to distribute costs of California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program.

Specifically, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) wants to do away with a program called the Coordinated Care Initiative, which changed the way the state and its counties shared costs for the IHSS program, the LA Times reports. Brown said the initiative wasn’t saving money and proposed restoring an older cost-sharing arrangement that would push $600 million back onto the state’s counties, a cost that’s too high to bear, county officials say.

Like Illinois, California’s demand for home care is expected to skyrocket in the near future. State projections show that residents ages 65 and older will make up about a quarter of the population by 2036, the LA Times pointed out.

Written by Tim Regan