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My Turn, Ted Goins: Direct care workers deserve a living wage

We entrust many of our precious elders and many other adults and children to direct care workers. Health and human services providers desperately want to employ only the best, most loving caregivers. Quality people are essential to quality care.

Certified nursing assistants deserve to make at least $15 per hour.  All health and human services direct care workers deserve to make at least $15 per hour.

The old adage that you get what you pay for has never been truer. The majority of health and human services is paid for by the government. Let me re-phrase that; the majority of health and human services is under-paid for by the government.  I’m not complaining about the government, however.  I’m complaining about us.

We are the government. We citizens fume and fuss about not wanting to pay more taxes. It’s true that the government  doesn’t always use our money as wisely as it should. There are always examples of that, but on the whole, our government does a fine job of using taxpayer dollars to fund what we decide is important.

Finally, society has been shown that direct care workers are important, heroes of the first order!  It took a global pandemic for this to be widely recognized, but direct care workers are, and always have been, certified heroes.  It is time for us to value them in a tangible way, not simply with words of appreciation but with fair compensation for their service.

It’s time for us citizens to seize this moment.  We need to step up and insist our government pay at least this bare living wage of $15 per hour to our underpaid direct care heroes! Despite the essential and courageous service they provide, one in eight direct care workers lives in poverty.  We need to increase government funding to health and human services providers so they can pay a living wage, which will not only help pull many direct care workers out of poverty but also help to ensure the best possible care.   

The State of North Carolina recognized this in 2018 and began paying a $15 per hour minimum wage to state workers. That’s a good step, but they left the rest of the direct care workers out! This is wrong in a number of ways. First, it’s simply unfair. The government took care of its own but didn’t give us private providers the same funds to pay the same rate.  It’s unfair competition. Our tax dollars are being used to allow the state to unfairly compete against us.  A CNA can earn more at a state nursing home than he or she can doing the same job at a private nursing home across the street.

A large coalition is gathering around this very issue of paying a living wage to direct care workers.  Advocacy groups, health and human services providers, and related groups are gathering in support of a $15 per hour living wage for health and human services workers. This needed change will benefit not only the workers but the care recipients and the community at large. Please be on the right side of history and support the direct care heroes who support us!  Please monitor our progress at www.LSCarolinas.net, or email me at tgoins@lscarolina.net.

Ted Goins is president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Services Carolinas.

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