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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Home care workers deserve fair wages

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In "Welfare-to-work law encourages low wages, raises dependency on government benefits" (Web, Nov. 3), reporter Patrice Hill points out that the 1990s welfare reform gave private enterprises an incentive to pay low wages.

Retail and restaurant workers who cannot sustain their families on the low wages paid by their employers receive multiple public benefits, including health coverage through Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit, helping to lift their families out of poverty. Short of reducing these incentives, the government has few avenues to intervene in the private business practices of corporations, such as McDonald's. However, the government could do something to improve conditions for nearly 2 million low-wage workers not mentioned in Ms. Hill's article: publicly funded home care workers.

Because the services these workers provide are primarily paid for by government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, taxpayers are paying twice — to fund their low wages and to support the additional public benefits that more than half of home care workers rely on to make ends meet. But there are things that the federal government and states could do to correct this problem; namely, increase reimbursement rates to support living wages and contract only with agencies that pay a decent wage to front-line workers.

All workers deserve a living wage. But given the vital services and supports that home care workers provide to elders and individuals with disabilities, the consequences of undervaluing their labor are all the more dire. The projected demand for home care workers exceeds that of any other occupation, and yet the industry is plagued by high turnover, low wages (less than $10 an hour) and lack of workplace supports, such as employer-sponsored health insurance and paid sick leave.

That means that fewer skilled, caring individuals will choose this work, leaving America's families without the quality caregiving they need to help them live independently in their homes and communities. Our government should set the example for all low-wage employers by ensuring that, for home care workers, an honest day's work earns a fair wage.

JODI STURGEON

President, Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

Bronx, N.Y.

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