Lucía Núñez

This Thanksgiving holiday I am thankful for my beautiful family and my community. At 61, I feel well physically and mentally. I am grateful to be a home care worker with three jobs. I love caring for others, putting in 70 to 90 hours of hard work weekly at other people’s homes to be able to make ends meet in my own household for the past 25 years. I’m happy with my daily life, and I’m proud to provide the gift of independence for individuals with disabilities.

This year I am especially thankful that President Joe Biden’s administration allocated $240 million to improve home care services in Connecticut. Demand for home care is growing rapidly as our population grows older. But Connecticut’s independent Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) doing the work on the front lines have not seen a penny of it yet from Governor Ned Lamont. PCAs can’t wait much longer. We need answers.

The future of home care is in Governor Lamont’s hands. With $240 million in new funds from the federal government, Governor Lamont is perfectly positioned to transform home care services. Connecticut’s Department of Labor projects that PCA jobs will open at a rate of 5,500 per year for the next decade. More Medicaid participants are opting to live independently at home rather than moving into a nursing home. They count on PCAs for essential needs and quality of life. It’s a great model to deliver long-term care services if you prefer to stay home with dignity.

But to transform the future of home care services investments must be made in the present. PCAs demand transparency on the investment of these funds. In union contract negotiations, letters to the executive branch, public statements, and information requests, we’ve asked Governor Lamont’s administration over and over: What is the plan for these funds? How are these game-changing resources to be invested to improve the lives of those of us providing and receiving home care? Not a word from the executive branch. We keep waiting for Lamont.

Lucía Núñez at a rally Credit: Courtesy of SEIU 1199

This Thanksgiving, most independent PCAs are making $16.25 an hour to give personal care for our elderly and disabled. That’s $16.25 an hour with no job security, no health insurance, no paid time off for vacation or holidays, no paid sick days, no career path for growth and development, and no retirement. PCAs deserve more than poverty wages, we deserve health care for caregivers and hope for the future.

Governor Lamont did strengthen some long-term care sectors in Connecticut. The tragic outcomes of coronavirus revealed once again a long-term care system that relies on poverty wages and on the backs of Black, Latina and white working women. Governor Lamont’s administration made significant investments in the workforce to boost essential long-term care workers in nursing homes, group homes and day programs. But for five months, Governor Lamont’s administration has refused to meet with home care workers in union negotiations to chart a path for a better future. Why the long wait for PCAs?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are on a path to $20 per hour minimum, affordable health insurance and a retirement pension under newly ratified nursing home union contracts. Community program workers serving in group home and day program settings are seeing improved compensation packages in reward of their dedication through Governor Lamont’s new funding. PCAs providing home care workers deserve no less than our sisters and brothers working in long-term care services.

I hope Governor Lamont is as thankful as PCAs like me are thankful for President Biden’s funds for home care in Connecticut. Aside from the $240 million in additional federal funding, we can’t forget that we live in one of the richest states in the country, holding a $3.1 billion rainy day fund. Governor Lamont must properly value our passion, commitment, love, and the fact that our time and energy is expended caring for others.

I’ve been chasing the American Dream since emigrating to Connecticut 40 years ago from Dominican Republic. I don’t plan to retire from my PCA duties for now. You can’t retire if you don’t have money anyway. But one day my body will slow down, and I’ll need reliable income to survive.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my health, my family, my career and the patients I love.  I remain hopeful that Governor Lamont will deliver on his campaign promises so I can enjoy my own piece of the American Dream.

Lucía Núñez is a personal care attendant from East Hartford.

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