(TRENTON) – In recognition of the role staff at long-term care facilities play in caring for vulnerable residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic, legislation to provide one-time lump-sum payments to certain staff at long-term care centers was approved Friday by the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.
The bill (A-4479), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington) and Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris) would require the State Treasurer to create a supplemental payment program for long-term care staff who meet the following criteria during the period from March 9th to the bill’s enactment:
· Worked at least 10 consecutive or non-consecutive weeks during which the employees provided direct care services to long-term care residents;
· During each of those 10 weeks, provided at least 25 hours of direct care services in one or multiple facilities;
· During each of those 10 weeks, earned an hourly wage of less than $25 per hour or an equivalent salary.
“Long-term care professionals have been on the front lines since day one of the pandemic,” said Vainieri Huttle. “They’ve put their own health at risk to care for our elderly and disabled loved ones during these uncertain times. We need to show our appreciation and gratitude for their work.”
The supplemental payment program would be subject to the availability of federal funds made accessible to the State for COVID-19 response efforts, including funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The State Treasurer would determine the amount of the payment based on available funds and anticipated number of applicants. Eligible long-term care staff would apply for the supplemental payment online through a standardized system.
The State Treasurer would have the discretion to expand the payment program to include additional groups of health care workers during the pandemic, depending on the availability of federal funds.
“Despite their vital role in the lives of thousands of long-term care residents, most of the staff in nursing and veterans homes earn close to minimum wage, have inconsistent access to health coverage and sick leave, and are not often valued for their role in the healthcare workforce,” said Greenwald. “Not surprisingly, this leads to staffing shortages, turnover and training gaps. Direct care service professionals have spent the last several months working long hours for little pay, putting the health of themselves and their families at risk. They deserve a wage enhancement now more than ever.”
“Many long-term care workers must take shifts at multiple facilities to be able to support their families,” said Jasey. “These are the people who take care of our aging parents, siblings, veterans, friends and other loved ones, but they barely earn a livable wage. Providing hazard pay is one way we can give staff some relief.”
Additionally, the bill would require the State Treasurer to establish a grant program for long-term care facilities to help them provide supplemental payments to eligible direct care services employees. Facilities would be required to submit a report to the State Treasurer documenting that the facility used 100 percent of the grant funds for supplemental payments.
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.