More than 500,000 California workers will get $500 pandemic bonuses. Here are the details
More than 500,000 caregivers in California will each receive a $500 bonus from the state as soon as January, as it tries to retain workers in a sector long hampered by low wages and high turnover rates.
Those who worked as caregivers for at least two months between March 2020 and March 2021 are eligible. Both in-home caregivers and those providing Medi-Cal home and community-based services such as the Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly would qualify, according to the state's budget document.
More than $280 million will be paid out in total, with state and the federal government splitting the cost.
"These payments are meant to recognize (in-home supportive service) providers for their efforts to keep IHSS recipients safely in their own homes during the pandemic and are in alignment with the Department's investment to increase IHSS provider retention and workforce development," California Department of Social Services spokesman Jason Montiel said in an e-mail.
The caregivers are among the first to receive pandemic bonuses from the state. Prison guards in the summer got nearly $5,000 in pandemic bonuses through a new bargaining agreement with the state.
"This means a lot for our workforce," said Beverly Yu, the statewide government affairs director for the United Domestic Workers AFSCME Local 3930 which represents the caregivers. "Our providers were very pleased to be recognized as frontline, essential workers. Our providers predominantly make minimum wage. The majority live paycheck to paycheck."
Through its counties, California has paid more than 500,000 caregivers to tend for those who are old, disabled or blind at their homes, providing an alternative to nursing homes and care facilities.
But a 2013 report from the state's Legislative Analyst's Office found that the annual turnover rate within the in-home caregiver workforce was about 33%. The number hasn't improved much since then, Yu said.
In Sacramento County, in-home caregivers make $14 an hour, the state's minimum wage for bigger employers. A 2021 state audit found caregivers on average make just 58% of a living wage for their counties.
Yet, many caregivers also couldn't go to work during the peak of the pandemic because some of their clients didn't want to risk being exposed to the coronavirus, said William Reed, a district vice president at the caregivers' union.
The bonus isn't a long-term fix for the industry, which will see demands grow as more Californians age, Yu and Reed said. Still, they said it will make a difference for the caregivers.
"Most of our workers live paycheck to paycheck. Any time there's any kind of interruption to your pay, do you make your car payment? Cell phone payment? Rent?" said Reed, who is also an in-home caregiver in Placer County caring for his adult son who has autism. "For some people, $500 isn't much. But with you making $14 an hour, $500 is almost a week's wage. So, that's a lot. That's getting caught up on bills."