Personal care assistants who provide in-home care for vulnerable, elderly continue call for pay increase

15% temporary increase did not make it through the legislature last session

Sloane Martin
May 25, 2020 - 6:48 pm
Jay Spika, Deb Howze

They work jobs that keep vulnerable and elderly folks in their homes instead of long term care facilities that have been a focus of the state’s coronavirus response. And they want an increase in pay.

Despite bipartisan support, a measure to temporarily increase pay for personal care assistants up to 15% did not pass before adjournment last week.

Deb Howze makes just over $13 an hour and said PCAs deserves more respect, not just during a global pandemic.

“We’re in this together, and one thing the home care workers are doing and the workers that are on the front lines, we’re putting our lives at risk, we are sacrificing, so we’re worth getting the money to live our lives as well. My clients depend on me to be safe.”

With long term care residents making up 87 percent of COVID-19 deaths, Howze said PCAs perform an important role keeping people at home.

“We’re doing the majority of the work,” she said. “We’re keeping people at home and saving money and people want to be at home.”

The industry has dealt with longstanding understaffing due to the low pay and physically demanding nature of the job. Just like long term care workers, people of color tend to make up a significant portion of the PCA workforce. Health officials also say people of color are experiencing sharp health disparities in the pandemic: In Minnesota African-Americans make up 6 percent of the population, but around a quarter of COVID-19 cases. 

“This has been going on since the beginning of time where people of color have worked for little or nothing and our lives were never valued,” Howze said. “Just like it is now. We call this modern-day times, but it hasn’t changed much.”

Howze hosted Gov. Tim Walz on the clock taking care of a young MS patient in St. Paul. She said she hoped that experience would have made an increase in pay a priority, but workers will keep trying to convince lawmakers.

“We don’t know when it’s going to happen, if we’re going to need a PCA, your family members or even yourself,” she said. “It’s about the money and it’s not about the money. But it’s about that we care to keep our communities intact. We’re on the line like everybody else. Why aren’t we getting paid like everybody else?”

Without an official end-of-session deal, it's possible the pay increase gets floated again in a special session.

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