Chennal Chase Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Long term care providers and labor advocates packed a legislative hearing room Tuesday, transforming U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s press conference on federal efforts to boost their pay into a rally for raises here in Connecticut. 

The workers, represented by SEIU 1199NE, gathered in the Legislative Office Building to begin an ambitious push for better compensation: raises to bring their hourly pay up to $25 per hour by 2025. 

Rob Baril, the union’s president, said the raises as well as retirement and health care benefits would come with a $700 million price tag, an expense which he argued Connecticut could afford, given the state’s more than $3 billion surplus. 

“All of these goals that we are talking about, they are all achievable, they are all real,” Baril said. “This is a real conversation. People are going to tell us that we are crazy. I don’t believe that the idea of ending poverty for long term care workers is crazy.” 

Some of the workers described the impacts of that poverty during Tuesday’s event. Robin David of Danbury said she was forced to limit her hours in order to continue to qualify for HUSKY health coverage and could not afford to pay to repair her vehicle. 

Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199NE Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

In order to make ends meet, Chennal Chase of Manchester said she had been working three jobs including a position at Oak Hill, a group home in Hartford.

“I have no time with my family because I have to work and I have to take care of them,” Chase, who lost a son in 2021, said. “Time is something that we do not get back.”

Chase said policy makers often had the luxury of staying home during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was in Oak Hill, every two weeks with no less than 140 hours,” she said. “I worked. I had no time with my kids.”

Sen. Matt Lesser, a Middletown Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Human Services Committee, said his panel has raised a bill that would allocate just over $300 million in funding for state-run group home workers over the next two years. 

Though lawmakers have yet to craft their own budget proposals, the funding is not expected to be in the plan proposed Wednesday by Gov. Ned Lamont. 

Lesser told the workers gathered Tuesday that he expected pushback against legislation to pay them more.

“We know it’s a hard fight. We’re going to have to work hard and make the case, but we also know that we have the money,” Lesser said. 

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Credit: Hugh McQauid / CTNewsJunkie

On the federal level, Blumenthal sought to promote a bill raised by Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey. Among other things, the bill would make states eligible for a 10% increase in their Medicaid funding if they meet certain pay and benefit standards.

Despite a divided Congress, Blumenthal said felt the bill had a decent shot at passage in part due to a dwindling workforce and the nation’s aging population. He said the country was in a “health care-giving crisis.”

“When you think about it, it’s kind of saddening but it makes sense because everybody has relatives who are at an age where they need care-giving, they want to live at home and a lot of relatives are caring for them because they can’t find someone else to do it,” Blumenthal said. “The reason they can’t is because there isn’t enough pay and people can’t support themselves and it’s tough work.”