Campaign to increase wages rolled out

The 5% Campaign is on the march, kicking off with advocacy during the Minnesota State Fair and a well-attended press event in Duluth last month. Supporters hope to continue to gain momentum before the start of the 2014 Minnesota legislative session.

The coalition behind the campaign wants a 5 percent increase in state funding for services people with disabilities and aging adults receive at home and in their communities. If successful, the campaign would raise the wages of about 112,000 people who provide direct services to aging adults and disabled people.

Self-advocates, their family members, caregivers and representatives of a wide range of disability community organizations braced the heat and went to the state fair to make their point to elected officials. One goal is to sign up legislative supporters. Many state representatives and senators, along with Gov. Mark Dayton, were at the fair to meet constituents.

Other opportunities to meet legislators will be sought before the session begins, including home visits with advocacy groups and the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD). MNCCD member groups voted in August to support the campaign. Other initiatives MNCCD voted to support are the Medical Assistances Income Standard and Asset Limit campaign, the establishment of a Quality Self-Directed Services Workforce Council, and the DSPMatch project.

Of these efforts, the 5 % Campaign is one of the most high profile. One focus for the campaign is that nursing home workers received a 5 percent wage increase during the 2013 session. Expansion of the plan for other care providers would cost about $70 million. It is seen as not only providing more equitable wage and better care, it also is seen as a way of retaining existing workers and attracting new ones. The goal is to get the increase passed and in place on July 1, 2014.

Community-based services touch the lives of about 60,000 individuals. Advocates contend that the services are also an efficient tool to ease state budget woes. For example, the Elderly Waiver Program is able to serve three seniors in the community for every one individual in a nursing home with the same level of funding. However, despite the numbers served and the cost savings for the state, these programs have experienced deep cuts over the last decade.

Services include a wide range of supports designed to increase independence, including home-delivered and congregate meals, homemaker and chore services, independent living skills training, direct support in foster care homes and help with personal care.

State Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth) spoke before a crowd of campaign supporters August 13 in front of Duluth City Hall to kick off the campaign. He pointed out that the median wage for caregivers for people with disabilities and the elderly has declined by about 10 percent over the past decade.

“We got a 5 percent increase for nursing homes, but we didn’t get the same for the disability community,” Huntley said. “We’re not keeping up with inflation. I’ve always believed that the disability community should be getting the same as what the nursing home community is getting. They’re doing the same job.” He conceded that the issue is one legislators should have addressed during the 2013 session.

“This campaign is critical for providers across the state,” said Jon Nelson, executive director at Duluthbased Residential Services, Inc. “I’ve see the good that our services do for the people we serve, but needs are being unmet and our hard working staff can’t continue to do so much with so little.”

Steve Larson, campaign co-chair and senior policy director for The Arc Minnesota, outlined the various services of the caregivers provider programs and said. “All of these programs received several cuts in recent years, during tough budget times,” Larson said. “Now is the time to correct that situation. Legislators are charged with difficult budget-balancing decisions and have to pick their priorities. 2014 is now the time for their top priority to be adequately funding community support for people with disabilities and older adults,” he said.