Orange Grove Center urges lawmakers to raise wages for caregivers statewide

The people hired to take care of Tennessee's most vulnerable say they can barely take care of themselves.

Low wages are making it difficult for caregivers of people with intellectual disabilities to make ends meet.

"Trying to pay bills and being a single mother, it gets hard," said Orange Grove Center caregiver LaGloria Williams. "It's a struggle."

Care providers earn an average of $9/hour in Tennessee, which is about $19,000/year.

"There were plenty of times I cried at night about my bills, trying to get my kids through college," said Ramona Pickett, who has been with Orange Grove since 1998.

Orange Grove Executive Director Kyle Hauth says the center relies on state funding to pay caregivers.

On Friday, he met with state representatives and asked them to consider increasing wages $1/hour for home and community service providers statewide.

"Walmart, for instance, is $10/hour and of course, here in Chattanooga, we're having to compete with groups like VW and Amazon who pay even more," said Hauth.

Turnover is high among service providers. Pickett says in her 19 years at Orange Grove, co-workers constantly cycle out because they can't support their families, which ultimately affects the people they serve.

"We need somebody that's stable in this population's life. They need that," said Pickett. "Once they get used to someone, they're out the door so they bring another person in. Well, they just built up that trust with someone else and they have to start all over."

Williams believes even an extra $1/hour would ensure Tennessee's most vulnerable citizens have the care they need.

"It would help bring in more people who are willing to help these individuals," said Williams.

The wage increase would require $20 million in state funds.

That would also bring in an additional $40 million in federal funding.

This is a developing story. Depend on NewsChannel 9 for updates.

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