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In-home well being staff want a path to increased wages – Marin Unbiased Journal

Aging at home with the help of In-Home Special Service workers. (Courtesy of Pexels)

For many neighbors, it is a top priority to stay in their Marin County homes as they age. Figuring out how to do so is a question keeping some of us up at night.

It was a focus of the Marin Organizing Committee when it formed the Aging and Disability Team. The group is tasked with figuring out how to make that wish a reality. As a team member, I learned a lot.

A key element to staying in your home is the ability to have care. For those in lower economic brackets, it is the ability to have support from the In-Home Supportive Services workers. These caregivers show up for people in the most vulnerable moments of their lives, yet our county pays them less than they would make at a fast food restaurant.

Marin County has just entered negotiations with the IHSS union. Right now, its wage is $18 per hour. San Francisco is $3 more, with a plan for further raises soon.

Ahead of these negotiations, the organizing committee advocated for a living wage of $26 per hour for the three-year contract. When committee members first started researching this issue, the online “true living wage” calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that a single person without children trying to get by in Marin needs at least $26 per hour. This year, the amount was upped to $32.17 per hour. Clearly, Marin IHSS workers are being left behind.

There are many reasons it is important to increase those wages. Here are a few:

• At 40% and growing, Marin has the largest percentage of seniors or disabled residents in the state.

• IHSS workers can find better wages in neighboring counties, yet Marin’s high demand dictates it must attract workers from neighboring areas.

• A recent state law gives everyone working in medical facilities a path to $25 per hour. But in-home workers were not included.

• High rents mean most caregivers can’t live in Marin. They need their own vehicles to get to clients. So the cost of gas, bridge tolls and vehicle maintenance have a direct impact on someone choosing to work here.

• Even $26 per hour is not a wage that allows for unexpected expenses; it is only $52,000 per year – assuming the IHSS caregiver is able to work a 40 hour week, which most cannot. If their client goes into the hospital, they are not paid. The number of hours a client can have an IHSS caregiver is determined by very strict guidelines. And, in most cases, travel time is not included as part of the hourly wage.

• Our first baby boomers will reach 80 years old in less than two years. We need to be ready. The fastest-growing group entering homelessness is seniors.

This is also an equity issue. Many women, people of color, immigrants and disabled residents work at low-paying jobs. This directly impacts their Social Security benefits. Lower pay equals lower Social Security.

As an example, I pictured a woman who was a beloved preschool teacher. She paid taxes while working, rented her home (because she couldn’t afford to buy one here), taught generations of students and now qualifies for IHSS care. Right now, it’s possible the program won’t have a caregiver to help.

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