Monday, 25 October 2021

Cameron: The supervisors need to stand behind their words

At the June 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, the meeting opened, as usual, with public comment. Residents who came to speak were human care workers, specifically, In-Home Supportive Services, or IHSS, care workers.

These are the dedicated people who care for homebound senior and/or disabled residents. Most of them spoke of the need for a wage better than what fast-food workers earn.

You see, the county sets the terms of their employment and benefits. So far, the county is willing to set the pay scale at only minimum wage. Meanwhile, local fast-food restaurants are advertising jobs for $1 over minimum wage. This leaves care workers, and me as well, wondering why our county representatives don’t value them enough to pay a decent wage.

There is currently a shortage of care workers, partially due to better paying jobs being available. Additionally, it can be demanding work, caring for another’s body and soul. My recent experience as a volunteer for Friendly Visitors attests to this shortage.

A woman I visit has been without an IHSS care worker for over two months. I have worked through the county Social Services division to obtain referrals to potential care workers. In calling potential IHSS care workers, six so far, I find them either fully booked or they simply do not return my call. In the meantime, I have increased my volunteer hours to keep her showered and basic needs attended to. I am quite sure that better pay would attract more workers to this profession.

What motivation does our Board of Supervisors have to negotiate a contract with IHSS workers to pay them more than minimum wage?

One: Pursue economic development. IHSS workers are the largest block of workers in Lake County, with 1,800 people working in the profession. This care program is funded mostly through federal and state dollars. It costs Lake County 16 cents on the dollar. That means a one dollar raise brings 84 cents from federal or state sources to circulate in our economy here. Research shows that when low wage workers get a raise, they spend most of that money, thus fueling the local economy.

Two: Alleviate poverty. Lake County has the distinction of consistently ranking either last or next to last in household median income. That means we are the poorest or second poorest county out of 58 counties in California. Our county representatives have the power to elevate household income by providing a better wage to their largest block of workers.

Three: Demonstrate compassion. Lake County has another unfortunate distinction; we consistently rank either last or next to last in health outcomes. While the reasons for this are many, the fact remains that we have a very large population who experience the conditions of aging prematurely. U.S. Census data shows that 13.4% of our population is disabled and 23.1% are over 65, compared to 8.6% and 16.5% nationally, respectively. That means Lake County has a greater need for workers who care for the aged and disabled.

Several years ago our supervisors held community visioning sessions. That resulted in a Vision 2028 document. One stated goal is: “Consider and promote the well-being and economic resilience of every Lake County resident.”

Our supervisors need to stand behind their words.

Susan Cameron lives in Hidden Valley Lake, California.

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