The irony of Poverty Awareness Month in San Bernardino County
San Bernardino County has declared January Poverty Awareness Month. How ironic that while the county is trying to increase awareness of poverty in our community, they are actively promoting the continued conditions of poverty that exist for thousands of workers like me who live and work in this county.
Today, 26,000 San Bernardino County In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) caregivers like myself provide vital care to more than 31,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities by doing the most intimate of tasks for them, such as, bathing, grooming, changing dressings, administering medication, and other medically necessary services as well as everyday tasks that they are no longer able to do on their own, like going to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and simply getting a breath of fresh air at the park. Yet, despite the important work we do, we are also a direct reflection of the poverty and challenges facing many working families in the county.
The county’s vision statement talks about creating “a home for anyone seeking a sense of community and the best life has to offer.” But even though IHSS caregivers are the largest and fastest growing workforce in the county, they choose to keep us in poverty, refusing to make the necessary investment to lift us up above the minimum wage.
How is it that the county talks about poverty awareness and then allows their representatives to turn a blind eye when people living in poverty come knocking on the door seeking solutions? We need solutions to address the poverty affecting San Bernardino County.
Nineteen percent of San Bernardino County residents live in poverty. Studies show that a single parent family in this county with two children requires an annual income of $56,788 just to make ends meet without government assistance. A two-working parent family with two children requires a $66,919 annual income. Yet, San Bernardino County IHSS caregivers average $17,820 a year.
According to the US Census, an estimated 35 percent of caregivers in San Bernardino County receive CalFresh to meet the basic needs of feeding our families.
The fact is that the women and men like me who make up the IHSS workforce experience firsthand the challenge of living in this county in a state of poverty.
We need to see the county “walk its talk” on poverty. There needs to be less talk and more action demonstrated to move solutions.San Bernardino County is offering NO wage increase to IHSS caregivers. This is an insult to me, 26,000 IHSS caregivers like me, and 31,000 seniors and people with disabilities who depend on IHSS caregivers like me to survive.
County representatives must represent the ideals of the County of San Bernardino and efforts to address poverty.
If San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and County CEO Gary McBride really care about policies that seek to eradicate poverty, then all of their representatives must stop acting against the ideals of county leaders and start representing through their actions that they are committed to the goals of the county.
Enrique Camacho is Regional Vice President of SEIU 2015’s San Bernardino County chapter. He is a member of the bargaining committee and is a caregiver for his two autistic sons.