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Low-Wage PA Nursing Home Workers Rely on Public Assistance

Many nursing home workers need food assistance to feed their families. Credit: Jesse Leon Guerrero/Wikimedia Commons
Many nursing home workers need food assistance to feed their families. Credit: Jesse Leon Guerrero/Wikimedia Commons
November 6, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A new report finds thousands of workers in nursing homes across Pennsylvania need food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet.

The Keystone Research Center report says low wages in the industry are being subsidized by taxpayers at a rate of about $118 million a year.

Steven Herzenberg, the center’s director, says the center estimates that nearly 15,000 nursing home workers need public assistance to supplement their wages.

"Which is one in six nursing home workers, and nearly one in three workers in occupations with an average wage in the industry below $15 per hour," he points out.

The report says raising the starting pay of nursing home workers to $15 dollars an hour would put about $300 million into the hands of workers, and increase local and state tax revenues.

Tisheia Frazier says she's been working in nursing homes for 10 years and is paid less than $12 an hour.

A single mother, she says she depends on $200 a month in food assistance to feed her family, and says she needs other assistance to meet basic living expenses.

"I have heating assistance in the winter, and our apartment is part of a low-income housing program,” she relates. “It's heartbreaking to work full time and barely be above the poverty line."

Frazier adds most of her co-workers are on public assistance, and a raise to $15 an hour would make a huge difference in their lives.

A bill just introduced in the General Assembly seeks to end poverty wages in nursing homes.

State Sen. Daylin Leach says it would create a Living Wage Certification for facilities that provide a base hourly wage of $15 – and for those that don't, there would be penalties.

"If they pay their employees an amount inadequate to support themselves, then the nursing home could be fined up to the amount the nursing home employee was getting from government assistance," he states.

According to the Keystone Research Center report, nursing homes in Pennsylvania showed more than $400 million in profit last year.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA