Some nights I drive along Route 8 in Naugatuck close to midnight, headed to my client’s house. My job is to help Mr. West, who is elderly, live at home with dignity and independence. I try to pick up extra shifts when I can, even though the late-night drive is exhausting, because Mr. West depends on me for round-the-clock care. I have been a home care provider for over 20 years and although my job is challenging, it’s a labor of love.
I would like to work more hours and be more present with clients like Mr. West, but I have to limit my hours to ensure I don’t exceed the income cap for the state’s HUSKY insurance program. Because I have severe osteoarthritis, I can’t go without health care, but the wages the state pays are too low to afford other insurance no matter how many hours I work. State home care providers don’t get paid sick leave either —so whenever I have a flare-up, I lose hundreds of dollars in pay. It’s a lose-lose situation.
According to a survey by the New England Heath Care Employees Union, SEIU District 1199, 32% of Connecticut’s home care workers are behind on rent or mortgage payments. One in four have unpaid medical debt and one in two have taken unpaid days off due to illness. Our jobs don’t give us a retirement plan or pension. My colleagues and I are facing impossible choices because we don’t have affordable benefits or living wages, in spite of the fact that Connecticut has a $3 billion surplus at its disposal.
Despite these challenges, 10,000 Connecticut home care providers like me do this work because we’re passionate about caring for people. But many of my peers who love their jobs are driven to quit by the lack of support from the state. Sadly, that means Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents are bearing the consequences of the state’s inaction. As a result, tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Connecticut residents need home care now or will soon, and there are not enough of us to keep up with demand.
My fellow home care providers and I are devoted to our clients and we want them to get the care they need regardless of income or background. In order to provide quality care and stay in this industry, providers like us need livable wages, affordable health care, retirement and paid sick leave. That’s why we have been marching in the streets, and many of us even got arrested last month outside the Capitol in a peaceful act of civil disobedience to demonstrate that neither we nor our clients can wait any longer for change.
The good news is, through the budget this spring, Gov. Ned Lamont can take action to transform our state-funded home care jobs into good jobs and build a stronger future for workers and clients alike. I’m encouraged that he has heard our calls and agreed to meet with leaders of my union, SEIU 1199NE, because now is the moment to act.
My biggest fear is that I will have to give up my job and leave Mr. West. I currently don’t have enough money to buy groceries and pay utilities, and I rely on food banks and rental assistance. I’ve had my electricity shut off because I can’t afford the bill. I can’t continue living like this, unsure each month if I’ll work enough hours to pay my rent or cover my medical bills. I’ve stayed in this field because I love helping people like Mr. West live full lives, but it’s difficult to take care of others if I can’t afford to take care of myself.
It would change my life if my job provided better wages and benefits. It would mean I could pay my bills, go to the doctor, and take time off when I’m sick without worry. I’d have more money to spend in my community and save for retirement. Most importantly, it would ensure I could continue my work as a dedicated professional taking care of Mr. West and others who need it. It’s time for Gov. Lamont and elected leaders across our state to go all-in to lift up Connecticut’s care workforce. We deserve it.
Robin David lives in Naugatuck and is a SEIU 1199NE member.
Article from the Hartford Courant