Washington State Voters Approve Personal-Support Attendant Initiative
November 6, 2001, Washington State voters passed Initiative 775, requiring minimum standards for personal-support attendants for people with disabilities and elderly persons. The initiative creates a nine-member Home Care Quality Authority (HCQA) to set minimum staff qualifications, provide training, recruit workers and establish a "referral list" of qualified home care workers. It also grants attendants the right to unionize, allowing them to bargain collectively with HCQA for compensation, but it bars strikes.
The state currently pays independent (non-agency) attendants $7.68 per hour. Any future attendant pay increase would have to be approved by the state legislature. A pay increase would cost the state $38 million per year for every dollar that attendants’ wages and benefits increase, but this initiative was supported by Gov. Gary Locke (D). Some advocates for people with disabilities said that unionization could give too much power to attendants.
On a related issue, at the federal level, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), approved two bills to address the nursing shortage on November 1, 2001. S. 721 would award scholarships in exchange for two years of post-graduation service in an area critically short of nurses. The bill would also provide funds for mentoring, a media campaign to enhance the image of nursing, faculty recruitment grants, and funds to help hospitals retain nurses. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) originally introduced the bill. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) successfully offered the amendment to help hospitals retain nursing staff. The bill totals $320 million over six years.
The second bill passed by the Committee, S. 1597, authorized funding for public service announcements and recruiting programs in secondary schools and would offer tuition reimbursement and scholarships for nurses in training. The Committee plans to combine the two bills before floor action.