I am shocked that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors would persist in their decision to not increase wages for the county’s 1450 IHSS workers, even in the face of the findings of the impartial chairperson for the Fact finding Panel. The county’s response is cynical and factually incorrect when it argues that “unfortunately, the fact-finder misunderstood a few important concepts. Most critically, the fact-finder incorrectly believed that the County’s 2012-2013 budget predicts financing to increase IHSS worker compensation.” In my reading of the fact finder’s report, he understood the financing perfectly well. He was arguing that the county had, in fact, put forward a budget which would have more than covered the wage cost of the increase, given what the IHSS program actually costs. The fact finder was, in fact, so impartial and careful that he did not report that the county was about to receive a refund from the State as part of a new program under the Affordable Care Act which is intended to help States fund more high quality home care programs. That refund would fully cover the cost of the wage increase without the county having to touch any current General Fund monies.
IHSS workers in Humboldt County are paid less than workers doing the same job in almost every other county in the state. Their wage has not increased in 4 years during which period the purchasing power of their wages (adjusted for inflation) has declined by 6 percent. IHSS workers have no health insurance through their job; they continue to pay for the gas they use to transport their care recipients and to get to their job, even as the average price of gas has risen by 25 percent in four years.
It is too bad the Board of Supervisors didn’t attend the Fact finding Panel for they would have come away with a much better understanding of the value of the program and how little it really costs the county. They would also have gotten a better appreciation of how much it depends on extraordinary sacrifices by the IHSS workers.
Candace Howes is a professor of Economics at Conneticut College. Her studies on the impact of Caregivers in local, state and national economies have been featured by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research as well as the UC Berkely Labor Center.