COLORADO SPRINGS — Some frontline workers who care for aging adults and people with disabilities will get a pay raise next year.
The state Joint Budget Committee voted 5-1 to approve a minimum wage of $15 per hour for direct care workers funded with any state dollars working in-home and community-based settings. This applies to personal care workers, homemakers, direct support professionals, and others.
"I'm happy about it because we do deserve the pay for the type of work that we do because we are caring for individuals," said Erin Taylor.
Taylor has been a caregiver for the past five years.
"I enjoy helping others and keeping their independence," said Taylor. "When I started getting into caregiving, the pay was pretty low. This increase is going to be absolutely amazing and it may help other people get into caregiving."
She says the increase makes her feel appreciated for the hard work she does.
"When there is pay, but also incentives like pizza parties, gift cards, and vaccination things," said Taylor.
“Every Coloradan should be able to live and enjoy the Colorado we love and I’m proud that we’re taking care of those who take care of our loved ones. Colorado has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in the country so making sure we can hire and retain caregivers is important for today and for years to come. In Colorado, we value our workers so I fully support moving to a $15 minimum wage for caregivers,” said Governor Jared Polis.
National data shows turnover for the direct care workforce is 82 percent.
"It is low wages, can be difficult work in terms of physical and emotional, and trying to meet people wherever they are at," said Bonnie Silva, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
The department has been trying to figure out new ways to retain and attract workers, which includes utilizing American Rescue Plan Act funds.
"We were able to craft a plan, it is a $530 million plan to invest in our system and support these workers. Out of this $530 million plan, we are directing $280 million toward the workforce, and out of that $280 million, we are directing $260 million to wages and rate increases," said Silva. "Coupled with that, we provided some rate increases to providers so they can look at compression pay. We know there are variances in regards to tenure."
Silva says the department is also directing another $20 million toward finding a long-term solution to sustain the efforts.
"A training pool that will help these workers get access to free training, develop standardized curriculum that can be used across the state, and an online resource hub where they can see openings. We also plan to work the Department of Labor and Employment, the community college system, and the Department of Higher Education so we can create career opportunities for this workforce," said Silva.
As well as developing initiatives to close gaps in care in rural communities.
"How do we help rural communities provide shares systems of care," said Silva.
Caregivers looking forward to higher wages.
"We would like to go on vacation, we'll be able to set aside 25 percent or even fifty percent now," said Taylor.
The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing plans to have the wage increase implemented on January 1st, but the rate increases for providers will begin in the next few weeks. While the American Rescue Plan Act funds will expire after 2024, the department says they are committed to identifying funds to ensure the long-term sustainability of this effort. They will pursue all avenues to continue to support these compensation increases for workers, while also minimizing the fiscal impact to the State’s general fund.
The federal government has shown through several recent legislative proposals that they are also invested in strengthening the direct care workforce. One example is the Better Care Better Jobs Act. That bill is now a component of the Budget Reconciliation process. It includes a proposal to provide substantial financial support to state Medicaid agencies to stabilize the direct care workforce. Included as part of this effort is significant funding which could be used to increase payments which would result in higher wages for direct care workers