Campaign to raise generates noise at capitol

The 5% Campaign is making itself heard. Hundreds of supporters jammed all three levels of the capitol rotunda November 12, […]

Donna Atherton was one of many family members at the November 12 rally.

Donna Atherton was one of many family members at the November 12 rally.

The 5% Campaign is making itself heard. Hundreds of supporters jammed all three levels of the capitol rotunda November 12, in a show of force before the 2104 Minnesota Legislature convenes February 25.

Self-advocates, organization representatives, families, personal care attendants and direct support providers turned out to support the call for a 5 percent rate increase for home- and community-based services for people with disabilities. They were also joined by several of their Minnesota legislative allies.

Cries of “What do we want?” “Five percent!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” rang through the halls of the capitol. Many waived signs stating “5 Percent Now,” “We Give 100 Percent But We Only Want 5 Percent” and “Poverty Wages for Professional Work?” “Today is our day! The day we stand up and shout from the walls of the capitol. The day we shout from the top of the mountain and say, ‘We need our fair share of treatment to be able to continue to build sound foundations in our communities’,” said Sam Subah, a direct support provider for Eagan-based Living Well Disability Services.

Sam Subah spoke on behalf of direct support providers.

Sam Subah spoke on behalf of direct support providers.

Subah, who had shouted himself hoarse during the rally, said he and other care providers cannot support themselves and their families. “We do these jobs because we love doing them,” he said. “But we cannot feed our families on our incomes.”

Kayla Ebert, who participates in programs at Opportunity Partners, told the crowd that a rate increase will help that agency and others retain staff longer. She holds a job and benefits from day treatment and habilitation services. She and others are negatively affected when staff leave. “I feel that one of the reasons that staff leave is because they don’t get paid enough to do the job that they love,” she said.

The 5% Campaign already has about 70 legislators signed on to support the rate increase. Sponsors for the legislation include Senate sponsor Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley  and House bill author Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids. Eken, who has a family member with disabilities, told the cheering crowd that they would not be left behind this session.

In 2013 nursing home saw a rate increase of 5 percent increase for employees’ wages. Those who serve people with disabilities got only a 1 percent increase. That slim increase, coupled with years of cuts to home- and community-based care, means wages for those who provide direct care have fallen far behind their peers in institutional settings.

“It’s not the year we normally deal with the budget,” said Eken. He said an exception must be made because people with disabilities were left behind. “It was important to give nursing homes an increase, but we should be treating waivered services and disability services equally. There are no second-class citizens in Minnesota.”

“We think 5 percent is well-deserved but what you really need is 15 percent,” said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. That comment drew loud cheers.

Sen. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, said the rate increase will be his top priority this session, after seeing how people weren’t treated equitably in 2013. Huntley chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

He praised the crowd for building momentum to start the session, but cautioned everyone that the increase “may be a tough sell.”

The increase add about $86 million to the current state budget. How it fares may be determined by upcoming state revenue forecasts. Some lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have cautioned that more support may not be forthcoming until more is known about the state’s financial picture.

Several speakers focused on the need to make the rate increase a priority. Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, said state lawmakers should make people with disabilities a priority. He suggested lawmakers shouldn’t be building new offices for the Senate, but should focus on people instead. “Let’s make this rate increase a priority,” said Brown. “Let’s quit talking about it and get it done.”

Bruce Nelson, executive director of ARRM, said the campaign and its goal of a rate increase shouldn’t been seen as partisan. “This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about you,” he told the crowd.

Nelson told those present to continue reaching out to legislators who haven’t yet indicated support for the rate increase. “We will be a priority in the 2014 session and we will prevail,” he said.

Look for The 5 % Campaign on Facebook. The Facebook page has a link to a support petition, which at the time of Access Press deadline had 2,686 signees.