Governor Raimondo on Tuesday announced that the state has committed $8.2 million in additional wages to congregate care workers who make less than $20 an hour, a step seen as critical to supporting and maintaining a workforce on the frontlines of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Workforce Stabilization Loan Program is expected to benefit more than 10,300 workers at 164 facilities dedicated to caring for aging adults, people with mental health diagnoses, substance-use disorders and developmental disabilities, as well as at-risk youth.
Since being announced on April 24, the state has made more than $6 million in payments to eligible providers to pass along to their eligible employees. Pending completion of loan agreements and other documentation from providers, the remaining funds should be distributed within a week.
“Once again, Rhode Island saw a critical need caused by the COVID-19 crisis and we responded – quickly and effectively. These caregivers are helping our most vulnerable residents and the state needs to help them in return,” said Gov. Raimondo.
The workforce loans to providers will be forgiven by the state as long as the funds are spent exclusively on employee wages. The program is funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The duration of the payroll support program will be four weeks, covering hours worked from May 4 to June 1, 2020.
“I cannot emphasize enough the vital role played by our certified nurse assistants, private care aids, food servers and custodians, and many others. These demanding jobs became even more challenging during this crisis,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones.
EOHHS Deputy Secretary and Medicaid Director Benjamin Shaffer said the loan fund was created following input from many providers in the community who cited concerns about staff shortages and, ultimately, an impact on care. “From our nursing home administrators to our DCYF partners, a common concern has been the impact the crisis has had on employees and the stability of this vital workforce,” said Shaffer.
Tina Spears, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), applauded the loan program.
“CPNRI and its member organizations are thrilled with the response of the Administration to launch this program. We are impressed with the swift implementation of this program by EOHHS leadership and are very grateful for the hard work of those who made it happen,” said Spears, whose network represents 23 providers of services and support to people with development disabilities. “The program acknowledges the importance and value of our amazing workforce and strengthens our ability to keep individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities safe through this crisis.”
Scott Fraser, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, and Jim Nyberg, director of LeadingAge RI, said the loan program acknowledges a concern their membership of long-term care providers have had in recent weeks.
“We are grateful for this first step in providing hazard pay to a portion of our workers. Nursing home workers are committed to their jobs and we as a community are so grateful to them for caring for our most vulnerable elderly residents,” said Fraser, whose group represents more than 60 nursing homes. “We thank the governor and look forward to working with her and the federal delegation to expand this program to all our workers.”
Nyberg, whose association represents 46 long-term care organizations, said, “This Workforce Stabilization Fund is a positive first step in recognizing the contributions of our long-term care workforce and we appreciate the Governor’s initial action. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we need to grow this program to acknowledge the sacrifices made by all healthcare workers within the continuum of long-term care.”
“These dedicated workers have always been heroes and it is great that the Raimondo Administration has stepped up to provide increased pay instead of waiting for Congress,” said Emmanuel Falck, elected organizer of District 1199 SEIU New England. “We hope the program continues and becomes stronger, covering more frontline caregivers in the coming months.”