With less than nine months before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, home care workers in early primary states are urging remaining presidential candidates to address the ongoing caregiver crisis and raise wages.
Nationally, the demand for caregivers continues to grow, as an estimated 10,000 adults turn 65 every day. And while home care is one of the fastest-growing fields, low wages and insufficient benefits have contributed to a worsening workforce shortage and historically high turnover rates.
Stagnant reimbursement rates have also contributed to the crisis, leaving in-home care providers handcuffed when it comes to competitively compensating caregivers and competing with a more lucrative retail sector.
As a response to the caregiver crisis, workers are calling for solutions that provide both affordable home care for seniors and livable working conditions for home care workers, including a $15 an hour minimum wage.
“It’s time presidential candidates address this crisis,” Mary Franklin, a Las Vegas caregiver, said in a statement. “Our working conditions don’t reflect the value of what we do. It took me 12 years to get a $2 raise to $12 an hour. I can’t afford to get sick, I have no time off or mileage pay when I drive from client to client — and that alone costs me at least $60 a week on gas. I feel underpaid and overworked.”
One U.S. lawmaker — Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) — recently introduced a bill that aims to help providers raise wages for their caregivers.
And so far, a number of the Democrat presidential hopefuls have addressed widespread senior long-term care needs to various degrees.
In November, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced his plans to provide older adults access to long-term care, including in-home care. Buttigieg released a set of policy proposals that would set up Long-Term Care America, a benefit program that would provide seniors $90 a day to cover long-term care costs.
The daily median cost of homemaker services in 2019 was $141, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey. For home health aide services, the daily median cost was $144.
Both Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have proposed that long-term care would be covered under Medicare for All. Additionally, Sanders took to Twitter last August to argue his stance that all older adults have access to affordable long-term care options as they age.
“No senior should have to sell their belongings or spend their life savings just to be able to age in place,” Sanders said. “Under Medicare for All, long-term, home-based care will be guaranteed as a right to every senior and person with a disability in America.”
In July, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced her plans for senior care. Klobuchar’s plan would provide a refundable tax credit to balance the cost of long-term care. Her proposal also aims to lower the cost of prescription drugs for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Although he is no longer in the running, Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, was among the first presidential candidates to outline long-term care and caregiving funding plans.
“We have a system now that’s just unfair,” Booker said in July 2019 during an AARP event. “It forces you to impoverish yourself in order to qualify for a lot of the Medicaid benefits. That to me is just unacceptable.”
By 2030, people over the age of 65 will reach 20% of the U.S. population, outnumbering children for the first time in the country’s history. That trend is particularly evident in early primary states, such as Nevada, South Carolina and others.
“Most home care workers are women, and women of color like myself and my mother before me,” Kim Thomas, a home care and hospice worker in South Carolina, said in a statement. “Our jobs have been historically dismissed as ‘women’s work.’ For the sake of our seniors, we need to transform home care from a low-wage, dead-end job into a sustainable career.”
Thomas and Franklin made their comments through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
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