HIGHER WAGES! Direct support starts at $15 and $15.75 +. LEARN MORE

Rewarding essential workers with higher pay benefits us all

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Without a doubt, we are enduring a catastrophic and persistent pandemic, one with the potential to astound and exhaust us. Yet we’ve all experienced the value of essential workers. It’s work that naturally evokes respect. And respect deserves investment.

At Heritage Christian Services, we’ve taken a risk by increasing our wages and creating a model for elected officials and policymakers to study. People with disabilities who use our services rely on continuity of quality support. Increased wages for their staff gives those essential care professionals self-sufficiency, the chance to rise above poverty and a reason to stay in the jobs they love.

In May, our base wage for OPWDD care professionals rose to $15/hour, with certified residential and respite staff starting at $15.75/hour, plus opportunities to make more on overnight and weekend shifts.

That direct care workforce, with 530,000 personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants, is the largest subset of New York state’s workforce. Of those people, 45% live in or near poverty and 51% need public assistance, according to a 2020 report from PHI, an agency that works to transform eldercare and disability services. In addition, 91% of those workers identify as female and 77% are people of color.

We need to welcome more people to caring professions. It’s predicted that 7.4 million jobs will need to be filled by 2029 to keep pace with our country’s care needs. A necessary step to success is to increase wages.

While Albany continues to fall short on calls to increase hourly wages for care professionals, we know that paying these essential workers better over time will have a significant impact on the health of our community. This wage increase has the power to minimize poverty in our communities and diminish the pay gap among races and genders.

To reward people who work in the caring professions so that they and their families don’t have to live in poverty — that aligns with the very mission we were founded on, that all people are entitled to a life of dignity, worth and expression.

We’re joining together with other agencies and human services partners across the community, building on each others’ expertise to benefit both the people we serve and those who provide those services. Together, with open-mindedness, a spirit of adaptability and long-term thinking, we will make an important difference in the very fabric of our community.

We have proven the value of this essential work. Now it’s time to prove that we value the people doing the work.

– Marisa Geitner

This essay appeared in the May 30, 2021, issue of the Democrat and Chronicle.