Sen. Daniel Biss recently voted to increase home health care worker wages, despite a projected annual fiscal impact of $86.8 million. | Courtesy of Shutterstock
Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) is supporting a bill that would require the Department of Human Services (DHS) to raise the hourly wage for personal assistants and home health care workers from $13 per hour to $15 -- a move that would cost the state $86.8 million a year.
“With everything that goes on in today’s economy, it’s extremely difficult to live on $13 per hour for the services they provide,” Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park) said during a Senate Human Services Committee Hearing on Apr. 5. “And I can tell you this would definitely be able to attract more workers to this field in which we definitely need more people.”
After a personal assistant in the home service program testified on the importance of the bill (SB 2931), DHS opposed the bill.
“We’re opposed to the bill due to the fiscal impact,” Vivian Anderson, a DHS representative, said. “The rate increase on this program would have an estimated annual increase of $73 million to the program. The training component would have an estimated $13.8 million with a total of $86.8 million annually.”
In addition to a pay raise, SB 2931, sponsored by Hastings, would require workers to attend annual in-person training determined by DHS, and requires the department to contribute into a Taft-Hartley health fund to provide health insurance to qualified personal assistants and individual maintenance home health workers.
“(The bill) mandates a wage increase, it mandates health insurance and it also calls for in-person training, which will also come obviously at an expense to the state,” Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, recently told North Cook News.
Rasmussen said the bill was one of a few similar bills that were introduced and quickly voted on without much conversation in the committee about what passing such a bill would really mean for the state in the long run, considering Illinois is failing to pay its current bills.
Furthermore, Rasmussen said, increasing wages may trigger the unintended consequence of fewer people receiving care.
“If you are increasing costs and you have a set amount of dollars, that means fewer people get care -- and that could mean some people don’t get the care they need,” she said.
Even more disturbing to Rasmussen is the mandate for in-person training.
“Keep in mind that these are providers,” she said. “They are busy caring for people often in the home, so yanking them away from their clients' homes and place of business to go to do training that could just as easily be done online just seems like a massive waste of everyone’s time.”
During the committee hearing, Biss and five other legislators voted in favor of the bill. Just one legislator opposed it.
“You hear legislators expressing deep concerns that they can’t get a budget, and here we go into committee and pass hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in new spending without sadly a second thought,” Rasmussen said. “So there is a real disconnect here from the legislators who are saying they are worried about the budget, and then billing new spending when we can’t afford what we already have. There is a big disconnect there, and I think it deserves more attention.”