Care workers who assist Iowans with disabilities could soon see pay raises averaging nearly $ 3 per hour, with help from state legislators.
A bill introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives Wednesday includes $ 14.6 million in extra Medicaid spending to increase wages paid to people who help Iowans with disabilities live in their homes or in small group settings instead of in nursing homes or institutions. Thousands of Iowa families have been struggling to find and keep such care services, because workers can find better pay for less stressful jobs in the tight labor market.
Each dollar of new state spending would draw down extra money from the federal government, which pays about two-thirds of the cost for Iowa’s Medicaid program.
Iowa Human Services Director Kelly Garcia said she hopes the extra money, if approved, would increase direct-care workers average pay from about $ 13 an hour to nearly $ 16 per hour.
“Our goal is to bring up that average wage to be more competitive. It is quite low right now, ”she said in an interview. She acknowledged that even with the raise, it could be tough to recruit workers to direct-care jobs.
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Over the past two years, the state government has used tens of millions of dollars in federal pandemic-relief money to offer bonuses for Iowans who work in direct care jobs. The new Medicaid money would offer permanent raises.
Jenn Wolff, a Waverly resident who uses a wheelchair and advocates for the rights of Iowans with disabilities, said Thursday that she knows several people who have had to stay in bed for days at a time because they could not find sufficient in-home care services that would accept Medicaid rates.
“These are such important jobs,” she said, and the people who do them should be paid accordingly. Even if average pay is raised to $ 16 per hour, the private care agencies would face stiff competition for workers with restaurants and other businesses, she said. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.” She added that a $ 3 raise could at least encourage more people who are already in the profession to keep doing it instead of taking other jobs.
The new money would be included in the budget for the Department of Human Services for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget bill unveiled this week also includes an extra $ 7.4 million to reduce a years-long waiting list for a special Medicaid program that helps Iowans with intellectual disabilities. And it includes $ 4 million to encourage home health care in rural areas.
State Rep. Joel Fry, an Osceola Republican who chairs the budget committee overseeing human services, noted in a meeting Thursday that the spending proposal comes as the state tries to reach a legal settlement with federal regulators over how such services are provided. The Department of Justice determined last year that Iowa relies far too heavily on institutions and nursing homes to care for people with disabilities and that the state needs to strengthen services to help people stay in their homes instead.
Federal officials also determined that Iowans with disabilities had been mistreated at the Glenwood Resource Center. State leaders are working on a legal agreement to improve services there and at a similar institution, the Woodward Resource Center.
Fry said the new budget bill includes money to address the federal officials’ demands, which will be spelled out in a settlement agreement that is still under negotiation.
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Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8449.