May 18, 2022

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“Faith for Fair Pay” Rally Seeks Remedy to Home Care Crisis



By JULIAN NAZAR

 

ASSEMBLYWOMAN NATHALIA FERNÁNDEZ (4th from left) and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (center) join others in rallying for higher pay for home care and healthcare workers in Co-Op City on Friday, February 25, 2022.
Photo by David Greene

As elected officials continue to crunch the numbers in efforts to finalize next year’s New York State budget, home care workers took center stage during a recent “Faith for Fair Play” rally in Co-Op City, organized by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Assembly Members, Nathalia Fernández (A.D. 81) and Chantel Jackson (A.D. 79), and over a dozen Bronx faith leaders and 1199SEIU union members.

 

The rally, held Feb. 25, was scheduled to announce support for the “Fair Pay for Home Care Act,” a draft State law which advocates said is also backed by the NAACP, AARP, Democratic majorities in the State Senate and Assembly, and has bipartisan support in both houses. AARP advocates for people over fifty.

 

Advocates called for funding for the act to be included in the upcoming State budget, following similar calls by over 300 faith leaders across the State, as outlined in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

 

It is not the first time home care workers have taken to the streets to have their voices heard. Norwood News reported on a March 2021 rally on Fordham Plaza by home care workers when they had also pushed for the passage of the “Fair Pay for Home Care Act.”

 

According to a 2018 healthcare workforce analysis conducted by Mercer HPA, New York faces the worst home care shortage in the nation. Meanwhile, an October 2021 report by the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State (CDPAANYS) found that low wages are the single largest driving factor of this shortage. According to City data, The Bronx has the highest rate of elderly poverty and the most people living with disabilities of all five boroughs.

 

The rally began with Jose Hernandez, community organizer for CDPAANYS, sharing a personal story. “One of my home care workers contracted COVID, and I was basically homeless because I couldn’t find anyone else to take care of me,” Hernandez said. “I had to struggle day in and out over three weeks over the holidays and I almost missed spending time with my family. Needless to say, the pay isn’t enough for individuals like me to find proper home care which leaves me in a precarious situation.”

 

Hernandez then explained what the caring majority is. “We are a movement of older adults, individuals with disabilities, home care workers, and family caregivers working together to fix New York’s worst in the nation home care crisis.”

 

According to the October 2021 report entitled, “The High Cost of Low Wages,” 74 percent of New York seniors and people with disabilities were unable to retain their home care workers in 2021. Hernandez attributes the shortage in home care workers to low wages. “Home care workers are paid as little as little as $12.50 in most parts of New York City,” he said. “That’s why clergy and faith leaders from across New York are joining our movement to win living wages for home care workers and New York and wipe out the home care work shortage.”

CONGRESSMAN JAMAAL BOWMAN (2nd from left) joins supporters at his “Faith for Fair Pay” rally in Co-Op City on Friday, February 25, 2022.
Photo by David Greene

Rev. F. Romall Smalls from the Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon also delivered brief remarks before Bowman spoke. “Do the right thing for an industry that has been neglected for so long,” the congressman said, directing his remarks at the governor. “Please let us put our money where it belongs. We can’t have a thriving, healthy society if we don’t take care of our home care workers.” He then also shared a personal story.

 

“My mom needed care during the months before her passing,” Bowman said. “It was almost impossible for us to get her the 24 hours of care that she needed. I receive calls constantly from constituents who want to bring their mothers home from nursing homes so that they can receive care in their homes. This is a process that takes months and months to happen if it ever happens at all.”

 

Bowman also highlighted efforts being taken at the federal level to improve the lives of home care workers. “We were looking and fighting to have $450 billion invested in the home care economy so that we can dramatically increase home care that is provided and making sure the workers are paid a prevailing wage,” he said. Before handing the microphone back to Hernandez, Bowman posed a couple of rhetorical questions to the crowd. “Who are we?” Bowman asked. “What do we want to become? How do we hold ourselves and elected officials accountable for a magical vision for America?”

 

Sandra Diaz, a home care worker of 12 years, and member of 1199 SEIU, the largest healthcare union in the nation, also spoke. “It has been 12 years of working in an invisible workforce,” Diaz said. “It is time for us to be recognized and valued.”

 

She then spoke about the different ways home care workers help the elderly. “We are there on a daily basis,” Diaz said. “We are there to bathe them, feed them, keep them company. Sometimes, I have patients crying when I leave.” Diaz continued, “The governor wants to give us a bonus,” Diaz said. “That is putting a band aid on the wound. We need a higher raise. We are fighting for higher pay. We need a comfortable living so I can take care of my son and my elderly father who I take care of every day.”

 

Indeed, as previously reported by Norwood News, Fordham Heights resident and caregiver, Emelia Dokyi Negron, was honored during the darker days of the pandemic in 2020 with a $1,000 Homecare Hero Award by her employer, Assisted Living Services (ALS). The job of live-in caregivers was considered that of an essential worker, especially during the pandemic. Among their responsibilities, in caring for their clients, are toileting needs, dressing and undressing, feeding, safety monitoring, travel and transfer help, and medication reminders.

 

The work is labor intensive and can make extraordinary demands on care providers, according to Assisted Living Services. Mario D’Aquila, chief operating officer at ALS, described the job of caregiver as critical. “Our care givers can routinely work 10 and 12-hour shifts because we specialize on those [clients] that need us most of the days,” D’Aquila told the Norwood News at the time.

 

Sasha Kessler of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, later addressed the crowd, sharing what the ultimate purpose of fasting is on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. “When so often, we are thinking about our bodies and our personal needs, God is reminding us that your fast is not for the purpose of just satisfying your body,” Kessler said. “It is ultimately about how you are serving the people in your community. How are you serving the people who work for you? How are you serving those who you love?”

 

Kessler argued the way to fulfill God’s message was to treat every worker and human being with dignity. “Dignity means ensuring that every person receives a fair wage that enables them to support their family and support themselves an do holy work like caring for older adults,” Kessler said. “Caring for those who need home care, ensuring that people can age with dignity in their own homes in their communities. It’s a mandate from Jewish tradition.”

 

She concluded with a plea to the governor. “I’m here today, proudly, as a member of the Jewish community calling on Gov. Hochul to use your power to ensure that every home care worker in this state is paid a fair wage now,” Kessler said.

 

For her part, Fernández encouraged those in attendance to engage in political advocacy. “I am committed to ensure this conversation doesn’t end until we see that line item in the budget,” the assemblywoman said. “We still have 30 days. Every single day, make that commitment to reach out to your legislature, reach out to the governor. Speak to your neighbor.”

JOSE HERNANDEZ, A community organizer for home care workers, joins supporters at the “Faith for Fair Pay” rally on Dreiser Loop on Friday, February 25, 2022.
Photo by David Greene

 With New York’s 65+ population slated to grow 25 percent in the next 20 years, the workforce shortage is projected to increase exponentially, and New York will have more than 600,000 home care job openings by 2026, according to research by the City University of New York (CUNY). CUNY researchers also estimate that the Fair Pay for Home Care Act would more than pay for itself through increased spending, job creation and moving home care workers off social assistance.

 

The final speaker at the rally was Tabatha Holley, a pastor at New Day Church. “I would never have known that Gov. Hochul would choose not to include fair pay for home care in her executive budget,” Holley said. “I realized that this is as much about the fair pay of workers as it is about the way we undervalue a large portion of black and brown women in boroughs like The Bronx, which has a disproportionally large need for home care.” She concluded her remarks with a few words of prayer. The rally ended with the singing of the caring majority anthem. As of April 4, the final budget remained under negotiation.

 

*Síle Moloney contributed to this story. 

 



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