BREWER, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The statistics show that as Americans live longer, and as the population ages, the need for home care workers will grow substantially. According to the Bureau of Labor Standards, the home care workforce will grow from 1.7 Million to 2.6 million in 2018, but the people caring for seniors in their homes earn, on average, less than 10 dollars an hour, and many do not get benefits. Some of those workers gathered at the Food and Medicine Headquarters in Brewer Thursday to urge their senators to make it a priority to improve pay, benefits and training for this growing workforce.
Huddled under a tent, Helen Hanson stood at a podium and shared her finacnial struggles while working as a home care worker.
"My bills are paid, but when the oil tank is down, do I pay the mortgage or do I spend $350 dollars to put 100 gallons in the oil tank," she said.
Hanson loves going into people's homes to care for them, but couldn't make ends meet, so she went to work at a rehab facility as a certified nurses aid where she got better pay and benefits. Her struggles are one example of a nationwide concern.
"We have 3 million direct care health workers in the country right now and we're projecting 27 million seniors by 2050," Pointed out Reverend Mark Doty, one of those gathered at the Food and Medicine Rally.
The pro-workers group staged this demonstration, complete with a juggler to show how difficult it is for home care workers to juggle their responsibilities when caring for a growing number of seniors, but finding an easy solution may be a juggling act too. While all agree that home care workers should be payed better wages, the issue becomes how to pay for that.
Vickie Purgavie, executive director of the Home Care and Hospice Alliance of Maine, which advocates for home care businesses, says home care companies couldn't afford to pay workers more because they depend on federal funding for most of their revenue, and their reimbursement rates are fixed. Simply put, if the businesses give their workers a raise, they can't charge the government more money to provide those raises
"So any additional requirements, if you will, around wages or benefits which this group of workers is so deserving of, would put the home care agency at a significant deficit," Purgavie said.
Organizers with Food and Medicine say because many home caregivers are mothers, they submitted Mothers Day cards to Senators King and Collins today, urging them to support a resolution in the Senate urging congress to address the issue of better wages and benefits for Home Care workers. A spokesperson for Senator King said he is still reviewing the legislation.