ALBANY, N.Y. – Home health worker organizations are lobbying for a reversal of a provision included in last year’s state budget that they say left many providers without a crucial revenue stream while increasing funds going to a politically connected union.
The provision reduced a state-funded supplement for the wages of home health workers and was quietly included in the budget deal after negotiations held behind closed doors. At the same time, funding for a relatively unknown health department program that channels money to home health agencies primarily affiliated with the powerful healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, was increased.
Policies such as these have led to organizations representing home healthcare workers to express their frustration over the agreement and are calling on lawmakers and the governor to reverse it in the upcoming year’s budget.
According to Connor Shaw, political director for Home Healthcare Workers of America, the budget deal’s implications were shocking, as it expected home healthcare aides, primarily immigrant women working their first job in the U.S., to pay for the increase in the minimum wage with a reduction in benefits.
Following the implementation of the budget deal, workers who collected their entire base wage as well as the supplement did not see any impact of the increased minimum wage. Additionally, home health agencies that utilized the supplement to cover the costs of benefits were struggling to make up for the loss.
Natalie Krivoruk, Administrator of Advantage Home Care in Brooklyn, says her agency provides essential health coverage plans in addition to other benefits for employees. However, these additional benefits are now at risk of being cut due to the decrease in the wage supplement. This led her to express the agency’s inability to cover the costs associated with further decreases in rates.
Hochul’s budget office defended the changes to wage parity supplements, arguing that they more directly benefit workers. However, for many workers and agencies, these changes have had severe financial implications.
Bill Hammond, Senior Fellow for Health Policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, highlighted the impact of these budget provisions on low-paid, non-unionized workers, stating that the state is essentially “picking their pockets” to bail out a union benefit fund.
The latest filing even noted that the fund would go belly up, pushing its employees off to state-run essential plans, had they not gotten some more cash from Albany in last year’s budget.