Seeking a living wage for personal care assistants

I’ve been a personal caregiver now for seven years, but I’ve been a caregiver for more than a decade. And I’ve been a member of the Health Care Union since my first day as a PCA.

I regularly visit my state capitol, House of the People, during this session in solidarity with my union and with the consumers of home care services in Connecticut.

Over the past year my rent has doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Today, my family is homeless.

Why? I can’t afford the rent to live where I lived. No one can live where he lives at the price we charge.
Our union’s “End Poverty for Long-Term Caregivers” campaign unites nearly 20,000 home-based, home-care and hospice-care groups as we push hard to get to $25, with affordable health care and retirement for all after decades of service.
We are asking the legislature to find the funds in the budget that advance PCA compensation to the living wage. Not because we want to drive fancy cars or live a lifestyle beyond our means. I just want to survive. My brothers and sisters in the guild just want to survive.
I broke my ankle in February and have not stopped working. I work on crutches because I can’t stand not working.
My wife fell down the stairs. She suffered a concussion with three ruptured discs in her back. Did you stop working? no. We put in 40 hours a week because we can’t afford a break. And we still don’t have a place to live.
I love my job. I want to continue doing that. We won a Medicare salary and five days of paid vacation in our most recent union contract with the state PCA Workforce Board.
But I’m barely making $18.25 an hour right now. Inflation and the rising cost of living in Connecticut have eroded our gains. Today, a family of four in Connecticut needs to earn $45 an hour to enjoy a middle-class standard of living.
Will I catch my breath above the poverty line for a change? Or are we always supposed to live underwater?
Can we use some extra state money to support home care workers and every other essential service worker who is drowning in this storm? I’m talking about public school paraprofessionals and child care providers. Why is it okay to take advantage of our poverty in exchange for a spending cap?

This relates to the sustainability of our state’s current and future workforce of long-term caregivers, and thousands of other poor black, Latino, and white service workers. Because if the people who take care of the elderly and disabled individuals can’t afford to live, what happens to the most vulnerable members of our society?
So we’re asking our elected leaders to find the money in the budget, not just for the PCA, but for the people who are our sponsors, for the people who are your constituents, for the people who voted for you. They are the people who put you in power.
If you can find that money for us and them, then we can do what we need to do to make our state what it should be. The federal government provides 56 percent of Medicaid funding expenditures in Connecticut. And the state has a cash surplus in the billions and something called the Rainy Day Fund.
Elected officials and policymakers in the state capitol are ideally positioned to make real changes to home care. We are counting on them to make a decision to lift all long-term care workers out of poverty in this budget. Either you legitimize poverty or you legislate to end it.

Chase Bowling is a Personal Care Worker who lives in Bridgeport.

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