Joy Hochstetler, right, sits with her twin Joshua and their mom, Mae Hochstetler, at the home where Mae and Joshua live on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Home care providers win $21 minimum wage, more in new state budget

Wage increases could help with a worker shortage and patient wait times. For one Lynnwood family, the new law “means everything.”

EVERETT — Home care providers are celebrating big wins from the state legislative session, including a two-year budget that increases the starting wage to $21 per hour for most home care providers.

“People feel good about the Legislature taking their concerns seriously,” said Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of SEIU 775, a union that represents about 45,000 independent providers. “Caregivers feel like their work is being valued.”

Another 10,000-plus “agency providers” are employed by smaller agencies who negotiate separate contracts. Those contracts are typically very similar to each other and to the independent providers in wages and benefits, Glickman said.

The $762 million over two years funds not only a base wage increase of about 10% for independent providers, but also affordable health insurance for caregivers’ children, as well as improvements in paid time off, retirement benefits and mileage reimbursement. Glickman called the wage and benefit increase a “significant investment” in workers and their clients.

Joy Hochstetler, 25, spends her weekends as a respite home care provider for her twin brother, Joshua. He and the twins’ mom, Mae, also live in Lynnwood. Joshua Hochstetler has autism and epileptic seizures, ADHD, anxiety, depression and oppositional defiance disorder. The social isolation of the pandemic has been especially hard on him, according to his sister and mom.

Temporary pandemic hazard pay increases for caregivers allowed Mae Hochstetler to remain in their apartment and pay all of the bills, as The Daily Herald reported in March. The new state budget makes that pay increase permanent — and adds to it.

For Joy Hochstetler, the money she earns caring for Joshua allows her to take him to the movies or sporting events, and still save a little money overall in her monthly budget. She works weekdays as a human resources generalist for a construction company, after earning a master’s degree. And in a few months, when her student loan repayment starts, that $400 per month will roughly equal her monthly bill.

Hochstetler said, “it means everything,” to help her mom and care for her brother. While she has only been a paid caregiver for about two years, “unofficially” she has been a caregiver since around age 10 after her parents divorced.

“It’s great that the state recognizes families, and being able to help citizens with disabilities,” she said.

Even more, seeing the state make these investments gives Hochstetler peace of mind in the long-term. As the second legal guardian for her brother, if anything happens to their mom, Hochstetler would have full responsibility for him.

“I feel more financially secure in being able to take care of Josh if need be,” she said.

The Legislature passed several bills related to home care, including House Bill 1694. That bill passed unanimously. More family members will be eligible to be paid caregivers, with lower certification requirements to care for family. The bill also will create a pilot for spouses to be paid caregivers, and it funds a feasibility study on paying parents of medically complex children.

The combination of bills and budget should mean more caregivers willing to enter and stay in the field — which in turn could mean not waiting an average two months for a home care provider.

Laura White, division manager for Snohomish County Human Services, Aging and Disability Services, wrote in an email:

“These efforts by the state provide a vital boost to our senior community and the services Snohomish County and our partners provide. I’m hopeful these investments will decrease wait times, boost the workforce providing these services, and help ensure vulnerable older adults can access the resources they need.”

Glickman said that while a wage range of $21 to $25 per hour is a “significant step forward,” it isn’t a living wage in the Puget Sound. For that reason, home care providers also pushed for House Bill 1435 that will require financial data from home care employers and propose a plan for the state to try to get more federal dollars for home care.

More federal funding would be “just one mechanism to bring additional resources into the state to help improve wages and benefits,” he said, “and also go toward making home care more accessible, and improving client hours.”

Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430; joy.borkholder@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.

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