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Can WA Caregivers Afford to Keep Caring?

November 9, 2009

SEATTLE - November is National Family Caregiving Month. Many Washington families depend on home care workers to help them with relatives who are elderly or have disabilities. But those workers now face cuts in their own health care benefits as part of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) supplemental budget request.

As a result of the state's budget crisis, home care workers' hours already were cut by 4 percent this year, and services for thousands of people were reduced. David Rolf, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 775, predicts that if the request goes through, some caregivers will not be able to afford to stay in the industry.

"It was only a few years ago that these workers didn't have any health care, didn't have any vision, dental, vacation - or even workers' compensation, if they got injured on the job. This proposal by DSHS really threatens to be a big step backward."

The DSHS request is on the governor's desk for her to consider as she prepares a budget proposal to deliver to the legislature next month. The request also includes raising license fees for nursing homes and adult family homes, and ending in-home care services for another 1,400 people.

Rolf, whose union represents home care workers, says the proposed cuts will make it harder to attract and retain workers in a field that is already challenging.

"Home care workers bathe, feed, dress, lift, provide bowel and bladder care, transportation to and from the doctor. They are folks who do, literally, backbreaking work to provide dignity and sustenance to the most frail and disabled folks in our state - and they do it starting at $10 an hour."

The budget details are online at www.dshs.wa.gov/budget in the "2010 Supplemental Budget Agency Request."

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA