Opinion: I’m Working Two Jobs Because California Doesn’t Pay Enough For This Crucial Role

Photo by Toa55/iStock.

The cost of housing, groceries and gas weigh on almost everyone’s minds in the Bay Area. Maintaining our lives can feel like a house of cards, and it can collapse in an instant.

I should know. Two years ago, a fall left my dad paralyzed and unable to work. My family depended on his income. We were terrified we wouldn’t be able to give him the care he needed and keep a roof over our heads.

For families like mine, California’s In-Home Supportive Services program is a lifeline. The program empowers people who are at risk of being placed in nursing homes to instead stay in their own homes by choosing a person to help them with crucial activities like bathing, using the toilet, eating and getting dressed. That person can be a relative. Thanks to a social worker at the hospital, I found out about the program and was able to become my dad’s caregiver.

But the IHSS lifeline is fraying for families like mine as the cost of living soars. The IHSS pay rate for caregiving has barely inched above minimum wage in most parts of the state. The pay I receive as his caregiver is not enough to support my family, so I have to work a second full time job. That’s exhausting for me and means I can’t give my dad the full attention he needs.

According to a state report, tens of thousands of people like my dad are going without the care they need, leaving them at risk for falling, going hungry, missing medications or developing avoidable complications from their conditions.

Caregiving is physically and emotionally exhausting work that doesn’t pay enough to cover the bills. As a result, not enough people want to do this work, and the state is severely short of care providers. As this reality collides with California’s demographics — the number of elderly people is skyrocketing — more families like mine are at risk of disaster.

Home care providers like me are leading the charge to fix the IHSS system. To do that, we must have a seat where the power is — at the table with California’s governor. For years, IHSS care providers’ unions have negotiated wages and benefits in our individual counties. While we have fought for small pay and benefit increases locally, the bigger decisions that shape the program are made by the state government. That’s why we are working with Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) on AB 1672, legislation that would give caregivers a voice where the big decisions are made.

Caregivers like me know how to fix the statewide challenges that limit the program and threaten home care for people who need it. By shifting the role of bargaining with providers from each county, AB 1672 will empower IHSS providers to work directly with California’s governor to tackle serious, systemic challenges. We need to start with stabilizing our workforce and improve care by offering caregivers better wages and training.

If holes in the program aren’t repaired, hundreds of thousands of Californians like my dad will suffer, and families like mine will face impossible choices. No one wants to put their loved one in a nursing home when they could thrive at home, but we may have no choice because we simply can’t pay the rent otherwise.

I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to start caring for my dad and then work an eight-hour shift on my feet in Facebook’s kitchen in Fremont. After that I help my dad with chores like grocery shopping. The cost of my commute has soared, but I have no other choice but to keep working two jobs. My family is barely scraping by. We can’t afford a van designed for people who are disabled, even though it would improve my dad’s quality of life. As a result, he is mostly homebound.

I never expected caregiving to be my career, but I’ve never regretted taking care of my dad. He is so appreciative, and the opportunity to give back the love he gave me growing up is rewarding. I just wish it was a little easier to get by. Needing to have two jobs has forced me to put my dreams on hold. One day, I’d like to have kids of my own.

In the meantime, I’m fighting for people like my dad who never expected to lose his paycheck and depend on me. Our story could be anyone’s — and that’s why getting our home-care system on track by supporting AB 1672 should be a priority for everyone in California.

Maria Romero is a home caregiver for her father in Alameda County and a member of SEIU Local 2015.

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