April 3, 2020
Updated: April 3, 2020 6:46 p.m.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought home the vital importance of frontline direct care workers who staff hospitals, nursing homes, adult homes, services for children and people with disabilities, vocational and day programs of various types, and many, many others. These are the staff who cannot stay home and keep themselves safe not only because the people they serve absolutely depend on their availability but also because they cannot afford not to work.
We pay a lot of lip service to the value of this work. Eight years ago, in a report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo I wrote that these “jobs are compensated poorly, with many workers living at or near the poverty level or forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. One might summarize the job description of the direct support worker as requiring the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the caring of Florence Nightingale.” One of the hallmarks of value — payment of a living wage — generally does not exist.
We have made modest progress by increasing the minimum wage. Perhaps it is time to consider “combat pay” for workers who, in a very real way, are putting their health and lives on the line in the service of their fellow citizens.
Clarence J. Sundram
Former Special Advisor to the Governor on Vulnerable Persons