Michigan health aides to lose $2 raise without legislation
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — At least 85,000 nursing home staff, home health aides and other direct care workers in Michigan will lose a $2 hourly pandemic pay raise next week if the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer do not enact COVID-19 relief aid.
Disability advocates sounded the alarm ahead of lawmakers’ return to session Tuesday.
Medicaid-funded caregivers, including those who help people in their homes, first got the wage hike last April through an order issued by the governor. The increase was extended in July to direct care workers at area agencies on aging and an estimated 35,000 to 37,000 nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists in nursing homes under a bipartisan law.
Sherri Boyd, executive director of The Arc Michigan, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said inaction “would have drastic consequences” — especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Direct care workers provide essential services and their work is more important than ever. The clock is ticking, and we urge the Michigan Legislature to avoid this massive pay cut and support our most vulnerable,” she said.
The raise is due to end Sunday.
Advocates said the average starting hourly wage for a direct care worker is $11.44. On Feb. 11, Whitmer proposed keeping intact the $2 increase for the rest of this fiscal year and through the entire 2021-22 budget year, noting that the workforce is plagued by low wages and high turnover.
Supplemental COVID-19 relief legislation pending in the Senate would extend the pay hike through June and boost it by 25 cents an hour. A House-passed bill does not include funding for the higher wage, though it could be changed during legislative negotiations.
Whitmer and GOP legislators have been at odds over the disbursement of $5 billion in federal coronavirus aid and the allocation of hundreds of millions in state pandemic funding. The standoff also has left in limbo more than $660 million in federal aid to help people with rent and utility bills.
The state budget office says the funding is more than 10 times a previous COVID-related rental assistance program, which assisted 16,000 Michigan households and was funded with federal dollars. Republican lawmakers have proposed releasing a quarter or a third of the new rental-assistance funds, with the rest to be held in reserve until later.
“This is federal money for supporting our people to keep them from being evicted. Let’s get that $660 million appropriated now so we can keep people in their homes,” said Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Democrat from Beverly Hills.
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