Building a foundation for a caregiver rate increase

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” — Maya Angelou

After just 10 short weeks, the 2016 legislative session came to an end. Unfortunately, a rate increase for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) was not included in the final budget agreement between legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton. You should be proud of your hard work this session and know that together we did everything we could to help pass a rate increase this year.

So what happened? In the second year of the biennium, the bonding year, supplemental spending was very limited. There were many competing priorities for legislators in 2016, and with little opportunity for spending, the significant costs of a five percent rate increase for HCBS (both this year and in future years) increased our challenge.

While we are disappointed with this session’s result, we know that progress at the capitol often takes years of persistent work as a community. We passed a five percent rate increase in 2014 and will not let the bad news this year stop us from future success.

It is appropriate to contact your legislators to express your disappointment in the lack of a rate increase this year. This is an opportunity to begin building support for the 2017 legislative session. We are so grateful for everyone’s strong advocacy and ongoing support. This year you helped to increase awareness of the workforce shortage and helped position HCBS for an increase next year.

Together we accomplished some amazing things over the past year. We transitioned from The 5% Campaign to the Best Life Alliance. Our legislation for a five percent rate increase was co-authored by 116 legislators. We rallied loudly to support people with disabilities, older adults and caregivers across Minnesota, met with policymakers at the capitol, hosted town halls and site visits, and attracted media to shine a bright light on the critical need for funding. More than 140 organizations were involved in this effort.

Professional caregivers make an average of just $11.97 per hour for skilled work in community-based settings. Advocates for an increase argued the funding would help address more than 8,700 unfilled caregivers and staff jobs statewide.

“We aren’t providing people with disabilities and older adults the quality care they need because we’re short on staff. We are constantly in training and hiring mode,” says Best Life Alliance co-chair Steve Larson. “The problem is this: state reimbursement rates have not kept up with rising costs over the past ten years.”

Supporters argue that state investments in their workforce are critical to promote independence, meet health and safety needs, and allow people to work in their communities. Their call for an ongoing rate increase for HCBS went unanswered this session despite $90 million of proposed funding by the Minnesota House.

Providers are already working with people they support, state agencies and community partners to find new ways to address the workforce shortage. This includes the use of technology and increased use of unpaid supports. But these efforts are only part of the solution, and caregiver compensation is the most immediate concern.

So what’s next? Leaders within the Best Life Alliance will begin meeting right away in June to develop new strategies and legislation for next session. “Fair pay for caregivers working in community-based settings must be a top budget priority next session,” said Bruce Nelson, CEO of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota. “This is a serious infrastructure issue. If we don’t keep a stable foundation of skilled staff, the system for people with disabilities and older adults will crumble.”

With an election in both Senate and House this November, we know there will be many new legislators next year. When you talk to candidates this summer, always talk to them about the Best Life Alliance and tell them how they can fight for people with disabilities, older adults, and caregivers when they are elected. It will won’t be easy, but we can do it together.

Thank you for your advocacy, time and commitment.

-Pam Gonnella, Co-Chair, and parent; Steve Larson, Co-Chair and Senior Policy Director of The Arc Minnesota contributed to this article