Minnesota’s historic state surplus has renewed calls for legislators and Gov. Tim Walz to invest the state’s care system for people with disabilities. The 2023 Disability Services Day at the Capitol drew advocates and allies from around the state, with the rallying cry of “Invest in us.”
Doing more to increase and sustain disability waiver services was a key focus for those at the rally and lobby day, which was organized by the umbrella groups ARRM and MOHR. Thousands of people from around Minnesota attended the event, filling the capitol rotunda and its balconies. They waved organizational banners and homemade signs, asking legislators to “See us.”
Another message rally participants held up was, “If not you, then WHO? If not now, then WHEN?”
The organizations and their members have again joined forces with the Best Life Alliance, which is a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations, people with disabilities, families and supporters advocating for Home and Community-Based Services changes and additional funding.
The rally was the first in-person Disability Services Day in three years. Those who attended the rally heard from organization leaders as well as state lawmakers, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
Walz noted that with DFL majorities in the House and Senate, “Things are different this year. Things that have stalled before are moving.” He and Flanagan said they committed to seeing caregiver pay increase.
Raising wages for direct support professionals (DSPs) is seen as the only way to address the workforce crisis in waiver-funded disability services. Countless disabled Minnesotans have struggled to stay in their homes and maintain jobs and community ties in the face of the dire workforce shortage.
A competitive labor situation means that workers who would otherwise take personal care jobs can earn more at fast food restaurants and other workplaces.
It’s not known how many people have died due to inadequate personal care.
The big takeaway for those at the rally was to keep raising their needs and to continue to lobby for changes. Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood) was among state lawmakers who emphasized the severity of the wage and workforce situation. He urged those present to share their stories with legislator, ad to urge more pay for those who do “very important work.”
Other speakers urged the group to channel their passion into advocacy and to demand that the state support high quality care. With a surplus, this is the year to get something done, they said.
Senators John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) and Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) told the crowd that they are working to provide more funding for waiver services and other disability issues. They said what Walz and DFL leaders brought forward as a financial target isn’t enough.
The two said they work across the aisle for improved wages, and that more funding is needed to stabilize the disability services systems as a whole. “What we care about are your lives,” said Abeler.
Minnesota is the only state where the legislature sets the rates DSPs are paid and their reimbursement rates. A major need is to make changes to the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS), for a badly needed update of how disability waiver rates are set. The system now doesn’t reflect current economic conditions. Providers are unable to raise wages to attract and retain staff.
Rep. Jess Hanson (DFL-Burnsville) said that has to change. She has worked on the DSO wage issue for the past few sessions. Hanson said people with disabilities and their caregivers shouldn’t get ‘scraps” when it comes to funding.
She also urged those at the rally to keep showing up and keep contacting their elected officials. “This is how we make change,” Hanson said.
Legislative coverage for Access Press is by Editor Jane McClure.