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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Fighting For $15 An Hour: Why Disabled Texans Want Aides To Earn A Living Wage

Charlotte Stewart is Executive Director of REACH and uses an attendant herself every week to help with chores and errands.

Many of the people who care for disabled Texans don’t earn a living wage. Charlotte Stewart is executive director of REACH, a nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. She has a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, and she's helping lead the fight to boost pay for aides funded by Medicaid. They’re known as community attendants.

Community attendants are paid $8 an hour. That's slightly more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but it's far below the $11.71 hourly rate that MIT researchers say is a "living wage" for a single person living in Denton, Dallas or Collin counties; the rate in Tarrant County is $11.75. 

Stewart talked with KERA about her efforts in North Texas and at the Legislature in Austin during an interview at her home in North Dallas.

Interview Highlights

  • On what community attendants do: “That may be helping the person get up in the morning, get dressed, bathed, they could be preparing meals for the person, going grocery shopping. Some people even use personal care attendants on the job.” 
  • On how much money a community attendant earns: “Currently it is $8 an hour for someone who's on Medicaid and the person also does not get any vacation time or sick leave. The people with disabilities around the state that need this help and are living on the fixed incomes they're constantly hiring new attendants because people won't stay with them very long.”
  • On what happens if someone who qualifies for an attendant can’t get one: “They might wind up in a nursing home. That's why a lot of people with disabilities are down in Austin right now during the legislative session trying to make the legislators understand that $8 an hour -- and it's been $8 an hour for many years -- is ridiculous. Fifteen dollars an hour is what we're asking for.”
  • On claims that $15 an hour would wreck the Medicaid budget: “Bottom line what I'd say is would you rather they go into a nursing home where you're paying $60,000 year to keep the person in, or you pay somebody who needs an attendant? And they don't necessarily need the person 24 hours a day seven days a week. Typically the person will come in for a certain number of hours to help and that's much less expensive at $15 an hour. And nobody wants to live in a nursing home. We should have the right just like anybody else to live in the community, but you need some help.”
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.