Illinois, California Considering Wage Hikes For Home Care Workers

Policymakers in two of the largest U.S. states—Illinois and California—are moving forward with plans to increase wages for some home care workers.

In Illinois, state senators on Tuesday passed legislation that would effectively boost home care workers’ wages by at least $1 per hour from the current average of $10.98 per hour by July 1, 2018. Under the legislation, workers’  wages would continue to increase by at least $1 per hour each year until they reach about $15 per hour in 2021.

Specifically, the bill aims to raise wages by increasingly the overall rate paid to the social service agencies that supply workers—to $24.69 per hour by 2021.

The wage increases target home care workers in Illinois’ Community Care Program, about 35,000 home care aides in total.

“I take so much pride in my work, and I truly love my clients,” Pam Kirk, who has worked as a home care aide in the Springfield area for eight years, told Home Health Care News in an email. “What I don’t love it trying to survive off of $11.57 per hour.”

The bill passed in the Illinois Senate with a 33-20 vote.

A House version, introduced in February, has nearly three dozen representative sponsors, including Illinois Rep. Sonya Harper (D-6th District).

“The people who dedicate their lives to providing the very best care for our seniors also deserve a helping hand so they can live happy lives,” Harper said in a statement. “That means paying them a fair and livable wage for the great work they do each and every day.”

Critics of the bill—Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-25th District) among them—argue that a wage increase for Illinois’ Community Care Program workers would only exacerbate the state’s budget crisis.

Despite concerns, the newly passed Senate bill (SB 3511) would likely be a “significant step” toward decreasing turnover rates among Illinois Community Care Program’s home care aids, Terri Harkin, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, told HHCN.

“We know there is a direct line between turnover and wages,” Harkin said.

Wages for various home care workers have long been a contentious issue in Illinois.

Workers in Illinois’ Home Services Program, for instance, have been fighting for higher wages during the past few years. Those efforts include filing a lawsuit last year after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed promised wage hikes.

Meanwhile, as part of his budget package introduced earlier this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a 50% wage increase for at-home nurses who provide care through the state’s Medi-Cal program. Roughly 13.5 million individuals are currently covered by Medi-Cal, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

California legislators have until June to approve the budget proposal.

Home care providers in the state have dealt with multiple wage increase proposals, and California is already on track to increase its hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2022.

Nationwide, low wages in the home care space often contribute to high turnover rates. In 2017, median caregiver turnover rate spiked to about 67%, the highest rate since 2013, according to data from Home Care Pulse.

Hourly pay for a personal care attendant ranged from $11 per hour to $11.49 per hour in 2017, according to Home Care Pulse. For workers administering companion or homemaker services, 2017 hourly pay ranged from $10.50 per hour to $10.99 per hour.

Written by Robert Holly

Photo Credit:

Robert Holly