'Many' SNF workers rely on public aid: Report

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If rising discontent with wages hasn't raised eyebrows in your nursing home, there's a decent chance it could in the upcoming campaign season.

A day after employees at a Seattle-based credit card processing firm learned their wages would rise to a minimum $70,000, tens of thousands of the country's lowest paid workers from fast-food to retail picketed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Some of them included nursing home assistants, dietary and housekeeping employees.

So it's no coincidence that Wednesday's “Job Action Day” was preceded by 24 hours by a new Keystone Research Center report showing why and how many of the more than 80,000 direct care nursing home workers in Pennsylvania rely on public assistance to compensate for low wages. (A separate report also released Monday revealed that 42% of all U.S. workers make less than $15 an hour and almost half are over the age of 35, according to the Post-Gazette.)

The KRC report concluded that a $15 minimum wage at nursing homes “would benefit nearly 50,000 workers, put more than $300 million in their pockets, and generate about 1,500 jobs and more than $30 million in new tax revenue for the state and local municipalities,” while increasing overall nursing home costs about 4%, based on Medicaid cost reports filed by the homes.

Keystone researchers surveyed nursing home employees across the state and found more than half could not support their families on their wages alone, relying on family members or public aid to make up the gap. Median wages for nursing home workers in the state are $13.01 an hour; dietary and housekeeping average wages are between $10 and $11, according to the report. The Post-Gazette found several areas in the state, however, where workers earn more than that. For example, Allegheny County-run nursing homes pay nursing assistants between $16.73 and $17.49 an hour, the paper found.

The wages issue in long-term care is not likely to diminish any time soon in facilities across the country. It also flared last week, when more than 1,300 low-wage workers in northern California learned they will get about $6.8 million in back pay from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as a result of an ongoing Labor Department probe uncovering lost wages and minimum wage law violations.