The 5% Campaign continues to gain momentum, with a rally planned for noon Tuesday, November 12 at the state capitol. Campaign supporters and legislative allies will speak out for a 5% compensation rate increase in 2014, for those who provide care for people with disabilities. Those who attend are urged to make and bring signs, wear blue and bring written personal stories for their legislators. The stories will be used to make the case for the 5% rate increase for caregivers.
The campaign centers on the fact that group home staff and personal care providers have slogged through years of frozen or slashed state budgets. With an uptick in the state economy, the argument is that service providers for people with disabilities and aging adults need a funding increase in 2014. The increase would cost the state an additional $86 million in the current budget. Advocates argue that it would be similar to the pay increase that nursing home workers got during the 2013 session.
Since the campaign kicked off in August, advocates from about 90 organizations have been discussing the funding needs with state lawmakers. The goal is to meet with all 201 legislators before the 2014 session starts. Many state lawmakers took time to attend the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) forums throughout the state this fall.
The advocates do face challenges, led by the fact that 2014 is a short session. Legislators will be on the ballot in fall 2015 and may face pressures to hold the line on spending. Increasing wages could add $86 million to state expenditures. Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated that while he agrees with the equity issues being raised, state officials will have to look carefully at upcoming economic forecasts and projections for available funding. But advocates press on.
“The nursing homes got a five percent increase in 2013, and all we’re asking is for the same for those who care for people with disabilities,” said Steve Larson, public policy director for The Arc Minnesota. At the St. Paul gathering, Larson said, “We’re going to have so much momentum that they can’t say no.”
Larson and other MN-CCD leaders said the drive won’t be successful unless legislators are contacted and told personal stories of what it means to be a family caregiver, a personal care attendant (PCA) or a direct support provider (DSP). Those who receive care are urged to describe how assistance helps them live and work in their communities.
Here are some excerpts from testimony at the sessions:
Kayla, at the St. Paul session, described how she as a client felt when a trusted staff member left Opportunity Partners. “I was not very happy. I felt like she was one of the staff that I could talk to her about anything and everything. I know I am not the only one that feels that way when a staff member leaves, and this is just one of the situations that I have encountered since being here for almost four years. I feel that one of the reasons that staff leave is because they don’t get paid enough to do the job they love.”
Larry, at Brooklyn Park, is an advocate for clients of Lutheran Social Services. “Before I got my job, I made very little money. I couldn’t afford to do the things I wanted to do . . . I was working in a workshop before and only made a couple dollars a week. Work is something more than to keep people busy. I feel that people should have the opportunity to get equal pay for equal work.”
Allyson, at St. Paul, described her situation. She provided care for her children who have disabilities. She spent much time managing their care and researching treatment options, before a serious accident and brain injury in January. He husband who was working three jobs, had to do more. Family and friends pitched in, and the family got a limited number of PCA hours. But the family worries every legislative session that parental fees will increase or services will be cut and that mental health services will not be given deserved attention.
Diane, at Baxter, said “What is important to me? To make choices to be able to go places, shopping, church, the doctors, eye exams and dentist. I volunteer at (a care center) cleaning the bird cages, going to Special Olympics, bowling, basketball, track and field and we do fundraising we use the money for uniforms and state trips. If support gets cut due to funding how will we have transportation to get to my job at the Grand Casino at Mille Lacs? Also how will we live without funding and how will we get these basic needs met?” She aspires to have her own apartment, but needs support staff to make that a reality.
Angie, a support staff member in Baxter, said she began working in personal support services because she saw the need for people in her community to learn how to better their lives. “It is important to me that the people I serve lead an abundant life by having staff to help them go to things that we as staff take for granted; for instance, getting stamps, going to the movies and taking a boat ride,” she said. She urged state lawmakers to consider adequately funding caregivers, so their clients can continue to be support and have their dreams come true.
Anyone wanting for information on the campaign, and ways to get involved, can look for The 5% Campaign on Facebook, www.facebook.com/5PercentCampaign
Information from MN-CCD was used in this article.