In order to attract caregivers, Maine’s labor commission is calling for something radical: a requirement to ensure they’re paid at least 125% of the state’s existing minimum wage.
Overall, state-mandated minimum wage hikes have become somewhat commonplace in recent years. At least 21 states, for example, started 2020 with higher minimum wages than the previous year.
A legally mandated home care-specific boost to a given minimum wage, however, is a relatively new concept. However it is a long standing tradition Australia where the minimum wage is set by profession. Direct care workers earn $18.82 an hour to $22.84 depending upon skills plus overtime after 38 hours.
Maine’s Commission to Study Long-term Care Workforce Issues, a group established in 2019 to study direct care labor shortages, shared its recommendation in a new report.
The Maine legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to push forward accompanying legislation that would back the proposal on the same day.
Raising caregiver wages is just one of a number of recommendations made by the commission.
The group also called for a public service campaign that promotes direct care worker jobs as a viable career option, industry-specific state-sponsored job fairs, direct care worker training and education programs, and student loan repayment eligibility. The commission also recommended the creation of a long-term care workforce oversight committee.
In addition to the previously mentioned plans, the long-term care commission also called for an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates to better reflect providers’ costs. Nationwide, the delivery of home care is becoming more expensive, propelled upward by minimum wage hikes, more paid-time-off rules, electronic visit verification (EVV) requirements and background checks.
While the Home Care & Hospice Alliance of Maine was supportive of the proposal, it did so partially under the notion that home care wages would rise in tandem with reimbursement rates. If that didn’t happen, a caregiver floor wage of 125% of Maine’s minimum wage would likely prove catastrophic for home care providers.
Just last week, the Maine-based nonprofit Home Care for Maine announced it would be closing its doors in April due to financial troubles brought on by a recent minimum wage raise. The shutdown will leave almost 600 patients without home care.
In 2017, Maine’s minimum wage increased from $7.50 to $9.00; it then spiked to $10.00 in 2018 and to $11.00 the following year. Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $12.00, a result of another hike in 2020.
For context, 125% of Maine’s 2020 minimum wage would mean a caregiver baseline of at least $15 an hour.