April 12, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Two bills now before the City Council could make life for home care workers — both formal and informal — a lot better across the five boroughs.
There are well over 1.3 million informal caregivers in New York City alone. They provide virtually constant care to the elderly, developmentally challenged and the infirm who need assistance navigating their daily routines. Those receiving care are often the family members of the caregivers.
The Department for the Aging [DFTA] puts the economic value of the work those informal caregivers perform at $470 billion a year.
And yet, despite the vital services that informal caregivers and their compensated counterparts provide, they are both vulnerable to a myriad of stressors and pressures that make their own lives exceedingly hard.
“I hardly see my family and when I do want a day’s rest from work, I am required to find a replacement worker and pay her from my own wages,” East New York home health aid Lisia James said in testimony delivered to a joint hearing of the Committee on Aging and Civil Service & Labor on Monday. “My employers thing it’s slavery days, and the fact is, my story is not unusual.”
Into. 1084 would establish a new Division of Paid Care within the Office of Labor Standards charged with advocating for home care and child care workers across the city. While Intro 1081 calls on the Department for the Aging [DFTA] to develop and conduct a survey of informal caregivers in an effort to identify their special needs and challenges.
“If passed, bill no. 1084 and the Division of Paid Care it would establish, would be very impactful in giving domestic workers a place to go, a resource that continues to exist as time passes,” paid care worker Marlene Champion said in a statement. “I believe it is important that there’s a relationship between this office and the NYS Department of Labor to make sure that workers are able to fully enforce their rights.”
Councilmember I. Daneek Miller [D-27th District], chair of the Committee on Civil Service & Labor also pointed to the strain put on caregivers, as well as the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost over a caregiver's lifetime.
"It's not easy being a caregiver," the committee chairperson said. "Caregivers don't have time to consider their own mental health and well-being."
Intro. 1081 requires DFTA to come up with and execute a comprehensive survey of informal caregivers by this fall — September 30, to be exact. Recommendations to address that study’s findings would then be expected by February 15, 2017.
At Monday’s hearing, DFTA officials called the survey “ambitious” but also of “paramount importance.”
“The importance of supporting caregivers is underscored by the growing cadre of caregivers who are employed, raising their own families, and now find themselves caring for older relatives,” DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado said. “Unfamiliar with the kinds of service options available to meet their caregiving needs these individuals often find themselves confronting competing demands form their job, family obligations and caregiver responsibilities.”
Councilmembers, however, have questions about DFTA’s ability to get the new initiatives up and running so quickly, and whether or not funding will be an issue.
DFTA officials warned that the administration cannot “boil the ocean” or “bankrupt the city” in an effort to realize the aims of Intros. 1081 and 1084.
“What we’re looking for is leadership,” Councilmember Brad Lander [D-39th District] responded. “This is going to be a place where people can think out of the box.”
Fellow Brooklyn Councilmember Mark Treyger [D-47th District] cautioned administration officials that the problems facing caregivers is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“I don’t think we have a full picture of this, Treyger said. “I’m not sure if people are registering themselves as caregivers. Even our municipal workforce is being subjected to unfair labor practices.”