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Low pay for direct care workers is costing Maine millions, according to report

In this Nov. 27, 2013 file photo, caregiver Warren Manchess, 74, left, shaves Paul Gregoline, in Noblesville, Ind. Gregoline is 92 years old and battling Alzheimer's and needs a hand with nearly every task the day brings.
Darron Cummings
/
AP
In this Nov. 27, 2013 file photo, caregiver Warren Manchess, 74, left, shaves Paul Gregoline, in Noblesville, Ind. Gregoline is 92 years old and battling Alzheimer's and needs a hand with nearly every task the day brings.

Undervaluing the direct care workforce in Maine is costing the state millions each year, according to a new report from the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy.

MECEP's Arthur Phillips says roughly 8,000 Mainers are not in the labor force in order to care for loved ones due to a lack of direct care workers, which costs the state $13 million in annual lost tax revenue. And wages for direct workers are so low that many rely on public assistance. The report found that 18% of direct care workers are enrolled in MaineCare, which costs $18 million a year. And Phillips says many receive temporary assistance and SNAP benefits, which cost another $6 million annually.

"The costs of addressing the direct care worker shortage, some may argue that they're too high to tackle. But what we want to get across is that the costs of failing to address the issue are even higher and will be borne by everyone throughout our state," says Phillips.

A new state law requires that direct care workers be paid 125% of the minimum wage, which Phillips says currently amounts to only $17.25 an hour.

Jess Maurer of the Maine Council on Aging says the lack of workers has resulted in nursing homes operating at 78% of capacity. Meanwhile, she says, providers who care for people with intellectual disabilities have more than 900 staff openings.

"If fully staffed, respondents projected they could provide supports to an additional 1,644 children and adults," Maurer says.

The report recommends boosting reimbursement rates in order to increase wages for direct care workers and provide benefits such as health insurance.