The COVID-19 pandemic placed both physical and mental stress on health care workers across the state, but even before the pandemic struck, many of these workers were already battling low wages and understaffing.

Home care employees are facing similar challenges to nursing home and assisted living facility workers, battling low wages that have forced many to leave this line of work.

Agnes McCray, who lives in Syracuse, says home care has allowed her to remain in her home, but recently, her home care provider of 14 years had to leave her position since she could no longer afford to live off of sub-minimum wage.

“What my worker provides me, you can't pay enough,” McCray, who is also the Access and Independent for All (ARISE) president said. “Just to know that they can't even make basic minimum wage, it's really tragic.”

Right now on average, home care workers are making around the minimum wage, so their annual income usually equals out to approximately $22,000 a year.

This compared to fast food workers who are now making on average $24,000 a year. Mildred Garcia Gallery says she feels overlooked and abandoned by the state.

“We’re there for their everyday, daily lives,” Gallery said. “For the feeding, for the bathing, for the changing, but also to talk about their fears, to talk about their joys. So you're building a relationship with people, and to say that that relationship is not worth a fair living wage?”

Many home care workers, especially in rural areas, also struggle to find transportation.

With such low wages, countless home care workers are forced to take public transportation, which came at a cost during the pandemic.

Christine Pellegrino, a former New York state assemblywoman and board president of All Things Home Care, says they are pushing for legislation that would allocate federal dollars toward helping their organization provide reliable transportation for home care workers.

“It’s very difficult for individuals who make such a low wage to afford even a car,” Pellegrino said. “So our organization has provided an initiative to give rides to workers, making sure that people can get to work safely, efficiently, and with dignity, in order to accept more cases.”

A bill that would have raised the wage for home care workers, the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, was tossed out of the state budget earlier this year during budget negotiations.

Dana Arnone, owner of Reliance Home Senior Services, says home care operators do not have the money to pay their workers more.

“It’s disgusting,” Arnone said about home care workers’ low wages. “You know, so people tell me all the time, ‘well, then pay them more,’ which I would love to be able to do, but we need the reimbursement from the state. And that's the only way that they're going to be able to get any more pay.”

Advocates testified in a Senate hearing, pushing for the passage of these bills and more this next legislative session.