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Home-Care Workers Rally to Restore Hours, Raise Wages

PHOTO: Pam Hansen (right) was among the home-care aides and clients who paid visits to their state legislators on Wednesday. Photo courtesy SEIU Healthcare 775NW.
PHOTO: Pam Hansen (right) was among the home-care aides and clients who paid visits to their state legislators on Wednesday. Photo courtesy SEIU Healthcare 775NW.
February 6, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. - People with disabilities and their caregivers rallied in Olympia on Wednesday, looking for assurances from lawmakers that their hours of service will be restored. Professional and family caregivers who are paid by the state say they have slid backward on the income ladder in the past six years by almost 20 percent, between wage freezes and reduced hours.

Pam Hansen, Bellingham, was one of about 50 caregivers and clients who gathered at the State Capitol. She has a 25-year-old son with developmental disabilities who requires full-time supervision. Hansen said she now is paid to provide his care for 62 hours a month, down from 70.

"You know, I'm doing the best that I can with what skills that I have, and I think that I'm doing a good job," Hansen said. "But sometimes, it would help if I had a few more extra hours that I could do what I need to do sometimes for myself."

Home-based caregivers point out that they're saving the state millions of dollars a year by keeping people out institutions, which are more expensive. However, many of them make poverty-level wages. One piece of legislation they back, HB 2310, asks the state to cover the cost of protective gloves for all home-care workers, for health and safety reasons.

The rally was a joint effort of the caregivers' union, SEIU Healthcare 775 Northwest, and the ARC, which advocates for people with disabilities. Both groups aimed to let lawmakers know how their budget cuts have affected many of the people least likely to afford them.

Hansen said this is not her first time talking with legislators, and she feels they're getting the message.

"I've been up here in Olympia probably four or five times in the last six or seven years," she said. "Yeah, I think they really have [heard us], especially the governor. So, I'm just really hoping that we can get the word out."

Speakers at the rally said there are tax loopholes to be closed that could allow the state to funnel more money into restoring hours of service for older Washingtonians and those with disabilities.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA