“Old Style Food Stamp” by Chrstphre Campbell

February 4, 2017; Texas Tribune

Over the last six months, NPQ has been reporting on a few rapidly expanding fields of underpaid workers in the nonprofit sector, urging the sector to take up the issue as a matter of policy. Among those who are systematically underpaid are personal care assistants for elderly people or people with disabilities. Many of those who work with these populations make less than a living wage, and no small number are women and people of color. This article in the Texas Tribune makes it clear that these professions are often poorly paid even when the state is the direct employer.

In San Antonio, Yolanda White, 51, works at Lufkin State Supported Living Center where she has been employed for 14 years. She works full time and makes $27,000, which qualifies her for food stamps. As she says, “It’s a little embarrassing, it’s a little depressing, to be at this point in our life and…have to struggle.”

She has plenty of company, being one of more than 6,200 state employees receiving food stamps, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Also receiving those food stamps are 11,995 children of those employees. Furthermore, close to 31,000 children of state workers qualify for low-income health insurance programs.

It’s not that the state has not provided any raises, but they are almost worse than a pittance. In 2013, state workers got a one percent raise and in 2014 a two percent raise. In 2015, there was a 2.5 percent raise, and then employee pension contributions were increased by 2.6 percent. Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) recently filed a bill to require state agencies to plan for regular salary increases for employees who make less than $75,000. But Governor Abbott has recently established a moratorium on hiring for state agencies and universities until the end of August, commenting without a hint of irony that “Texans know how to live within their means…No less should be expected from their government.”

White, meanwhile, remains committed to those with whom she works. “As long as God gives me breath, I’ll give everything I have to the best of my ability to make sure I fight for them,” White said.

To avoid becoming an employer in this image, the nonprofit sector can and must take a strong lead in advocating for reasonable salary levels for these professions.—Ruth McCambridge