State gives raise to caregivers, retains homecare hours

Caregivers who provide daily services for some of Washington’s most vulnerable people will receive a rare pay raise, and homecare hours for seniors won’t be cut under the new state budget.

The budget passed by the Legislature in June provides a $1 increase of the hourly wage of caregivers during the 2013-15 biennium, raising the starting wage to $11 an hour. It’s the first raise for caregivers since 2008.

A smaller subset of experienced and trained homecare workers will qualify for a career wage of $15 an hour, closer to a living wage. The compensation improvements for low-wage workers were approved under a new contract funded by the Legislature.

Governor Jay Inslee said he was “proud to sign a budget that helps stabilize the skilled, long-term care workforce and helps Washington remain a national leader” in such programs.

In another budget decision that was applauded by senior advocacy organizations such as AARP, there were no cuts to the number of homecare hours available to adults who want to continue living in their own homes.

Adoption of the 2013-15 Washington budget included funding for a new contract for individual providers of home care supports and services. More than 43,000 members of SEIU Healthcare 775NW provide critical care for more than 52,000 seniors and people with disabilities. In addition to the 30,000 individual provider homecare workers covered by the contract, the wage bump triggers vendor rate increases for private agencies serving Medicaid clients. SEIU members are now bargaining with private agencies over new contracts using the increased funding.

The newest contract for homecare workers is part of the long-term investment the state is making to prepare for the coming age wage. More than one in five Washington residents will be over 65 by 2030, according to state statistics.

All homecare workers will receive a raise of 50 cents per year, increasing starting pay from $10 an hour to $11 by July 2014. Caregivers who have worked 14,000 hours – the equivalent of seven years of full-time work – will make just over $14.50 an hour and can earn an additional 50 cents an hour through certification and advanced training.

“We work hard every day to provide quality, loving care to the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Monique Taylor-Swan, an SEIU 775 caregiver from Renton. “This contract is a good first step toward lifting caregivers out of poverty. Most caregivers will still make just $11 an hour – not enough to support a family, but at least now there is a pathway to a living wage for experienced and well-trained workers.”

The need for caregivers in Washington will increase as the population ages and baby boomers reach retirement. Still, turnover among caregivers is high, the result of low wages and limited career options.

“Career caregivers like me are being recognized for our experience and our commitment to working for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Anna Rudova, an SEIU 775 caregiver in Edmonds who will qualify for the career wage.

More than 5,400 workers with more than seven years experience will qualify for a so-called career step by the end of the biennium.

“Now caregivers can earn close to a living wage if we remain in the field,” Rudova said.

The newest contract comes after caregivers were forced into arbitration by then-governor Chris Gregoire. An independent arbitrator issued a contract last fall, saying it balanced the state’s economic woes with the financial concerns of caregivers.

Voters statewide support providing fair wages for caregivers, according to a poll conducted earlier this year.

“Voters recognize the need to lift caregivers out of poverty,” said SEIU 775 Secretary-Treasurer Adam Glickman.