by Kate Wolffe

A new bill proposed in the California legislature would allow in-home care workers to bargain with the state for better working conditions, instead of on a county-by-county basis. 

Over 650,000 people who are elderly, disabled or sight impaired rely on home care aides to help them with daily tasks through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, or IHSS. These tasks include bathing, dressing, eating, cleaning and cooking. About 550,000 work through IHSS and most are women of color, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

Assembly Bill 1672, authored by Assembly member Matt Haney, a Democrat representing San Francisco, aims to bolster that labor force and give it more collective bargaining power with the Department of Health Care Services. According to Haney, 30 counties in California don’t have a contract with their in-home service providers and the majority pay either the minimum wage of $15.50, or one or two dollars above it. 

In 2021, an audit of the IHSS system found that it’s not meeting the needs of the number of people who require and desire home-care services. The state’s former auditor, Elaine Howell, found that in 2019, 40,000 people weren’t able to access the amount of care they needed. 

The audit also found that the current system isn’t built to accommodate the growing population of seniors, which is forecasted to reach 8.5 million in 2030, up from six million in 2019. 

“When we don’t provide for [home care workers], we have to pay more on the back end,” Haney said. “People who can’t receive care at home and are forced to be institutionalized as a result cost the state and counties a lot more.”

Rachel Gonzales, who cares for her nonverbal 11-year-old daughter Grace in northern Sacramento County neighborhood Mather, said advocating for herself and her daughter has become a second full time job. She added that trying to manage responsibilities while bargaining for an hourly wage increase is “mind-bogglingly difficult.”

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UDW caregivers Noreen Woods, Victoria Lara, and Cheryl Sevier of San Diego discussing pay equality with state lawmakers.

Dignity for All campaign aims to bring equality to IHSS providers and clients across the state.

In Riverside County, Robin Edwards earns $11.50 per hour for providing around the clock care for her client Jason, who lives with chronic kidney disease. She prepares his meals, transports him to his weekly dialysis appointments, and helps him with everyday tasks around the house.

Rose Montaño performs similar tasks for her daughter Nicolette, who lives with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy. But Rose makes less each day because she lives in San Diego County, which only pays providers $10.50 per hour.

“We’ve been waiting for a raise in Riverside County for 10 years. It’s time.” — 
Mieachia Cooper, UDW caregiver, Riverside County. 

We’re working to change this. Partnering with SEIU Local 2015, we are lobbying lawmakers to allow IHSS providers to negotiate pay and benefits with the State of California — instead of with 58 different counties. This is particularly important because earlier this year Governor Brown ended state-level bargaining for providers in 7 counties that were part of the failed Coordinated Care Initiative.“It doesn’t make sense that we make minimum wage, but providers in other counties are making $11, $12 and even $13 an hour,” said Michael Patterson, an IHSS provider in Tuolumne County who cares for his client living with a neuro-muscle disorder. “If everyone bargains with the state, we can earn the same amount for the quality care that we provide.”

Next steps: Join us in calling lawmakers in their districts and at the State Capital and asking them to support statewide bargaining. Call 1-855-912-7804 to be connected to your local lawmaker.