Metres Huddleston: Merced County should put people first by investing in long-term care

11/18/2013 4:37 PM

11/18/2013 4:38 PM

Sooner or later we will all need to think about long-term care, whether for ourselves or for a loved one. As the baby boomer generation ages, home care is becoming the fastest-growing occupation in America. Caregivers have a tough and invaluable job taking care of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, and here in Merced they don’t make much more than minimum wage.

Right now, Merced County has an opportunity to invest in a long-term care program that is vital to our community, a program that helps thousands of our elderly and disabled family members and neighbors survive. It’s called In Home Supportive Services (IHSS), and it’s a program we built together to make sure that people like me can live with dignity in our homes and communities.

I’ve lived in Merced for 66 years. I helped raise four wonderful sons, and I now have 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Ever since I moved here, I’ve tried to serve our community. I was the first black PTA president in three Merced schools – Weaver Union, Galen Clark and Rivera. I was a vice president of the local NAACP. I co-founded the Ms. Black Merced Beauty Pageant. I’ve held pretty much every office in my church, the Second Baptist Church of Merced. I continue to help Meals on Wheels, the battered women’s shelter and other community service programs whenever and however I can.

I spent my working days as a full-time mom, and also held part-time jobs to put food on the table for our family. I worked in the fields, in the schools and in stores for more than 30 years.

Today, at age 81, I am blessed to be able to live safely and comfortably in my own home, thanks to the IHSS program and my caregiver.

Here’s how IHSS works: The state and federal governments pay for community-based home care. The county administers the program, pays a share upfront and then is reimbursed almost entirely for its portion.

Not only does IHSS help me stay safe and secure in my own home and neighborhood, it also saves taxpayers millions over what it would cost to care for people like me in nursing homes or other institutions.

Another great thing about IHSS is that the money the county spends to pay its caregivers stays in our community and helps the local economy. It’s estimated that a raise of just 80 cents an hour for the 1,900 IHSS caregivers in Merced would generate nearly $2 million in increased economic activity in our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, some of our county’s leaders don’t seem to care. Dedicated, hard-working, compassionate caregivers get just $9 an hour and haven’t seen a raise since 2008. Merced County should follow the example of other counties, such as Riverside, which pays community caregivers $11.50 an hour, bringing more state and federal dollars to the region and generating more local economic activity.

I’m asking our county supervisors to invest in our community by supporting IHSS. Making this investment means better quality care for those who have helped build Merced, immediate relief for struggling families and a more secure future for all of us. I am counting on them to put people first.

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