Gov. Tim Walz recently visited personal care attendant Felicia Johnson in her South Minneapolis home to draw attention to the 31 percent raise she and tens of thousands of other home care workers will receive over the next two years.
Walz helped prepare a spinach omelet—the only dish in his repertoire—for Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter, Hannah Moore, who depends on her mother because of developmental and cognitive disabilities.
On Jan. 1, Johnson’s pay as a home care worker increased from $15.25 to $19 an hour and will rise to $20 an hour next year; it’s the largest pay raises these workers have received since unionizing in 2014.
“Now I don’t have to worry about skipping meals,” Johnson said. “Things that people just take for granted every day…can I give my kid an apple or banana? I got to think, can I afford that apple? Can I afford that banana?”
The raises were brokered in negotiations between state officials and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, which represents roughly 20,000 home care workers. The contract was ratified by state lawmakers with bipartisan support at the end of last year’s legislative session.
Workers who had been a home care worker for at least six months in July 2023 will also receive a one-time $1,000 retention bonus, and the contract established a wage scale for the first time, so veteran workers will earn as much as $22.50 an hour by 2025.
Home care workers—most of whom are women and people of color—help the state’s elderly and disabled complete daily tasks like cooking, bathing and grooming. Advocates of the program say it saves the state money and improves care for residents by allowing them to remain in their homes rather than move into nursing homes or other institutions.
“As a state, we care for one another. We care for our neighbors… And we put dignity into work, and that work should come with a living wage,” Walz said.
The contract will likely push up wages for tens of thousands of non-unionized home care workers as well because state lawmakers increased the reimbursement rate for home care services under the state’s Medicaid program as part of the deal.
It will be up to home care agencies to pass the increased revenue on to workers, which they’re under pressure to do given the ongoing labor shortage. Home care jobs are among the most in demand in the state and is only expected to grow as Minnesota’s population ages.
But low wages have made it difficult for people to find caregivers, sometimes with devastating consequences. There were more than 13,000 job vacancies for home health aides and personal care attendants in 2022, according to the most recent state data.
Johnson makes ends meet by working a second job in a daycare and visiting food shelves. Even so, she said she routinely has had to skip meals, had her electricity cut off, and been homeless.
“We just, by the skin of our teeth, was able to keep this apartment,” Johnson said.
This story is republished from The Minnesota Reformer under a Creative Commons license.