Caregivers could see wage hike approved

The 5% Campaign, one of the highest-profile efforts at the 2104 Minnesota Legislature, is close to reaching its goal. But getting the increase close to approval hasn’t been easy. Nor is anything certain until Gov. Mark Dayton approve state spending, including the health and human services budget.

Photo courtesy of Jane McClure
Photo courtesy of Jane McClure

The House approved its budget just before midnight April 3, after more than nine hours’ debate. The budget passed on partisan lines, 70-59, with Republicans decrying it as wasteful spending. DFLers defended the programs funded, saying they are needed.

The House budget does include the 5 percent rate increase for home- and community-based services for people with disabilities. The Senate, which also includes the 5 percent raise, was expected to pass its budget as Access Press went to press. Those budget details still have to be hammered out and ultimately approved by the governor.

The caregiver wage increase would cost about $84 million a year to implement. It would affect about 91,000 workers statewide, many of whom have been through years of pay cuts. It would also impact the level and quality of care for about 92,500 people with disabilities and elderly Minnesotans who live in the community.

The House budget also includes $2 million for a rate increase for rural nursing homes that pay employees $14 an hour or less. Rural areas have struggled to retain nursing home workers and in some cases, nursing homes themselves.

In 2013 nursing home workers won a rate increase of 5 percent increase for employees’ wages. Those who serve people with disabilities and the elderly 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.

Despite starting the session with many legislators signed on to support the 5% Campaign, campaign leaders were concerned that much of the state’s surplus would have to go to meet other needs. In late March the best advocates thought they might do is wrangle out a 4 percent increase.

“We need to keep reminding people that this is the 5% Campaign, not the 4% Campaign,” campaign co-chairman Steve Larson of The Arc Minnesota said at one point.

The push for the 5 percent increase was heard loudly at the March 18 Disability Day at the Capitol. Despite snowstorms that kept many of the Greater Minnesota groups home, a few hundred people filled the capitol rotunda to make themselves heard. They repeatedly shouted “Five percent!” and “Nothing about us without us!”

Up until the House vote there was a strong possibility that the increase would have been 4 percent. At the Disability Day rally, ARRM Executive Director Bruce Nelson drew boos when he said, “Some people have been talking about a 4 percent increase.”

Several lawmakers urged the crowd to keep fighting for the 5 percent increase. “Your voice really does matter in St. Paul,” said Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley. He is chief author of the 5 percent bill in the Senate. Eken, who has a brother with disabilities, urged those present March 18 to stay the course and not give up the push for the 5 percent increase.

“Why is it OK that our workers who care for pour most vulnerable citizens haven’t had a pay increase in six years?” said Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlain. “Five percent is a minimum solution for this year,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who wore two buttons from the 5 % Campaign.

The House action takes about $322 million of the state’s $1.2 billion budget surplus. Dayton and lawmakers already earmarked $443 million of the surplus for a package of tax cuts. Another $150 million would be placed in a budget reserve or “rainy day” fund.

 

 

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