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L.A. County to set aside money to boost wages for caregivers for elderly and disabled

People hold up signs that say, "Time for $20"
Blanca Alvarez joins a protest at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Nov. 1. Workers who assist people with disabilities in their homes have urged the board to increase their pay.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Caregivers who attend to elderly and disabled people in their homes in Los Angeles County could get a wage boost under a proposal approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

Workers with the In-Home Supportive Services program have been pushing for higher wages for over a year, arguing that L.A. County’s current rate of $16 an hour has made it difficult to scrape by amid rising costs for rent, gas and groceries. People with disabilities who rely on the program say low wages make it difficult to find and retain IHSS workers to help them remain in their homes.

During the meeting, Nikki Diaz, a 54-year-old widow with spinal muscular atrophy living in Highland Park, phoned in and said she had made dozens of calls in recent weeks to find a caregiver, but “no one’s wanted the job because the wages are too low.” Disability advocate Deaka McClain, who is on the L.A. County Commission on Disabilities, told the board that “IHSS workers aren’t getting paid enough for all the work that they do.”

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Under the plan put forward by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn, the county will set aside enough money to boost wages for IHSS workers by $1 hourly over the course of two years, with a 75-cent increase this fiscal year and an additional 25-cent increase the following year.

That wage hike would come on top of a 50-cent increase in hourly pay required by the state, which will go into effect in January, according to the proposal.

Such a wage bump would need be negotiated by the Personal Assistance Services Council, a public authority that has a contract with L.A. County to assist with the IHSS program, and ratified by the members of SEIU Local 2015, the union that represents IHSS caregivers. The previous agreement between the council and the union expired last year.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the pay increases would go into effect only if certain conditions are met, including the state agreeing to pay its usual share of the cost. Increasing wages for the IHSS workers “will allow for continued progress in the efforts towards a living wage for these individuals who provide critical services,” Mitchell and Hahn wrote in their proposal.

Arnulfo De La Cruz, president-elect of SEIU Local 2015, said the planned increase is “a strong step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.” SEIU Local 2015 has been pushing to gradually bring wages for IHSS workers up to $20 hourly, rallying caregivers around the chant, “Time for 20!” Workers at the Tuesday meeting argued that the planned raise was inadequate.

“This is a crisis of care because there’s not going to be enough people to care for this population that continues to grow,” De La Cruz said in an interview, describing a “silver tsunami” of elderly people who will need in-home assistance. He said the union would continue to fight on the state and national level to improve wages and benefits for IHSS caregivers.

Hahn said Tuesday that the board shares that goal. “I think we are all very supportive of getting there — eventually — to $20,” Hahn told De La Cruz at the board meeting.

In L.A. County, there are roughly 200,000 caregivers working with the program and more than 245,000 people authorized to get assistance through it, according to state data.

The IHSS program is paid for with a complex mixture of federal, state and county funds. L.A. County officials said that last year, it spent nearly $640 million of its funds on the program, with the federal and state government covering the bulk of its $5.6-billion cost. This budget year, the county is spending roughly $665 million of its own funds on the program, according to its chief executive office.

Boosting hourly wages by 75 cents would cost L.A. County an additional $42.5 million annually and the added 25-cent increase the following year would cost an additional $14.7 million annually, according to its chief executive office. Experts and advocates have argued the IHSS program ultimately saves the public money by keeping people out of more costly institutions such as nursing homes.


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