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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Personal care assistants call for paid sick time, health insurance

    As a personal care assistant in Ansonia, Angel Bailey said she loves to work but limits her work to 24 hours a week, so she doesn't lose her HUSKY health insurance through the state.

    "At $16.25 an hour, there's no way I can afford to buy my own health insurance, and I can't roll the dice without coverage, with my asthma and other conditions I have," she said. She added that she caught COVID-19 in December and, without paid sick time, lost almost $600. "I had to borrow money from my son, just to pay rent. That's sad."

    The wage for most PCAs is $16.25, said Rob Baril, president of SEIU District 1199 New England. The union is calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to settle a contract for PCAs with paid sick time, health insurance and retirement benefits, and for the legislature to approve a better contract.

    Personal care assistants, union officials and state legislators joined together in a virtual news conference Wednesday to call for these benefits. In December, home care workers and their clients protested outside Lamont's home.

    Baril said the last contract expired last spring but he wasn't at liberty to share details of where the union currently is in negotiations.

    The union also shared results Wednesday of a recent survey to which 760 PCAs responded. Among respondents, 32% said they have been behind on rent or mortgage payments in the past year, 37% rely on food stamps, 50% have taken unpaid days off in the past six months due to illness or quarantine, 55% rely on HUSKY health insurance, 12% are uninsured entirely and 26% have unpaid medical debt.

    "You work your tail off, and to not have basic health care, it's just unconscionable, so I think it's incumbent on all of us to be your voice and fight for you at the Capitol," said Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford. Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, noted the state has record surpluses, the rainy day fund "is overflowing" and there are still federal funds.

    "Human nature being what it is, we don't get to doing real structural change until there's a crisis. Well, we have a crisis, ladies and gentlemen," Cabrera said.

    The other legislators who spoke were Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, and Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor.

    Personal care worker Jannell Roberts said her client got COVID-19 and then she did as well, but she couldn't take time off work. She said of the man for whom she provides care, "If he has nobody coming in, he can't get up out of bed, he can't do anything that anybody else would do normally."

    Faye Hargrove, a PCA from New Haven, said she got health insurance from Access Health, the state's marketplace, but the deductible is so high that she owes thousands of dollars from her hospital stay with COVID-19 last year.

    Meriden PCA Israel Alvarado said he had a heart attack last year and has a pituitary tumor, but he doesn't have medical coverage and sometimes goes without his medicine so he can keep a roof over his family's head. "I kind of have to juggle between my heart meds and my endocrine situation, family, food, bills," he said.

    Santiago noted that the population is getting older and needs people to provide home care, but "if we don't take care of you, you're not going to be able to take care of other people that you service."

    Similarly, Garibay noted that these kinds of workers will be taking care of us at some point, "whether it's at home, in a nursing home, (or) in assisted living, so I absolutely support better wages for our health care workers, and to give them health care and the basic necessities."

    e.moser@theday.com

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