Support for Caregivers
May 22, 2023 at 3:56 p.m.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans provide unpaid care to family members or loved ones. The burden on family caregivers has become more difficult in recent years with the shortage of professional caregivers. The caregiver drought came into sharp focus during the Covid crisis and has continued to grow, shifting responsibility to the family.
A bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate last month would address the caregiver shortage. This month, lawmakers in Washington state have guaranteed millions of dollars in the state budget to boost caregiver wages and benefits for home care service providers.
U.S. Senate Bill
In April, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, joined other senators in introducing the Supporting Our Direct Care Workforce and Family Caregivers Act—legislation that is included in Chairman Casey’s HCBS Access Act—to support the recruitment, training, and retention of direct care workers and family caregivers.
“The caregiving crisis in this country corners many Americans into upending their careers and living on poverty wages or performing unpaid caregiving for family members because they have no other options. This is not the way that a great Nation treats its workers and families,” said Chairman Casey. “This legislation would ensure that paid caregivers can receive family-sustaining wages and continue to provide essential care to older adults and people with disabilities.”
Low wages and high turnover have long contributed to staffing shortages in the direct care workforce, which provides crucial support to older Americans, people with disabilities, and other Americans with chronic conditions. Direct care workers include home health and personal care aides and certified nursing assistants who provide long-term care services. Family caregivers are individuals who provide at-home assistance—such as help feeding, grooming, or providing transportation—to a family member, partner, or friend. The caregivers providing these life-sustaining services often live in poverty; direct care workers earn a median wage of roughly $14 per hour.
Now, with a growing number of older adults and people with disabilities in the U.S., shortages threaten to impact even more families. Investments in recruitment and retention strategies such as better pay and benefits, education and training enhancements, and better career advancement opportunities can help address the workforce shortage and help more families get the care they need.
Eric Tegethoff of the Washington News Service reports that Lawmakers guaranteed more than $760 million in their budget to boost wages and benefits for home care service providers.
Tegethoff reports: That means Washington state caregivers will get wage increases of at least 10%. Veronica Tausili is a caregiver for her mother who traveled to Olympia with her union – the Service Employees International Union 775 – to push for the wage increases.
She said experienced at-home caregivers will earn more than $25 an hour by the end of their contract and, importantly, caregiver wages will start at $21 an hour - helping recruit and retain them.
"We've lost so many caregivers because of the fact that they can't afford to stay in that position and not get paid," said Tausili. "So this is going to help us with the hiring process and getting people in because we're in dire need of caregivers right now."
The budget funding covers health-care coverage for caregivers' children as well. The Washington state budget also includes a rate increase for nursing homes of nearly $300 million over the next two years.
Tausili said this is critical for addressing understaffing in nursing homes.
Tausili quit her job to take care of her mom when she found out her mom had stage four cancer, which she survived - but Tausili continues to take care of her around the clock.
While some might see this kind of care as a burden, Tausili disagreed.
"This is my life as a caregiver and I love the fact that I can be there with her through everything," said Tausili. "I can say I was with her and I held her hand through everything."
Tausili praised state Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen—R-Puyallup—whom Tausili met with during the session, for her work on this issue. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the budget last week.