At-home caregivers in Washington state have experienced a boost in wages to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new campaign is urging lawmakers to make the pay increase permanent.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 775’s “Time for $20” campaign calls on lawmakers to raise hourly wages for workers who care for people in their homes and long-term care facilities in this year’s budget.

Julie Sparkman, a home-care aide who looks after children who mostly have underlying health conditions, was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“There was no time to put off what needed done and if it hadn’t been for hazard pay, I don’t know how I would have kept living indoors,” Sparkman recounted. “Honestly. I took every paycheck that I got and paid a month’s worth of rent because I knew I would be out of work for some time.”

Hazard pay put about an extra $3 per hour into caregivers’ pockets. The temporary increase was set to expire at the end of 2021 for individual providers, but SEIU Local 775 got it extended through March. With the session scheduled to end in March, state lawmakers are beginning to craft the budget.

Sparkman explained fortunately the cancer was caught in time, in what she called the best of a bad scenario, but her situation is not unique.

“I know that there are other people walking around right now in a scenario similar to that for whom immediate action will be the only thing that saves their lives,” Sparkman asserted.

Sparkman added workers needs to be at their best, so they can best care for the state’s most vulnerable population.

“It translates into safer clients, which is why our jobs exist in the first place,” Sparkman contended. “And if we can’t take care of ourselves, then how are we taking care of anyone else?”

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