Delays have a huge cost for our entire community

I’m sad providers are asking for more time to comply with proposed overtime rules for frontline managers. I understand direct support challenges, including our need for care workers and supervisors to work long hours and extended work weeks to cover our workforce shortage. I agree we must ensure older adults, people with disabilities, workers and families access to quality supports — supports needed to maintain health, safety, employment, education, family, friends and community.

But is it appropriate to delay long-overdue overtime protections for low-income supervisors? To delay justice for workers who are mostly women and minorities battling multi-generational poverty? We need government to adequately fund programs before we can afford to offer economic justice. But why delay?

Haven’t we learned that delay just enables us to continue our neglect, continue shifting burdens and continue avoiding accountability? That neglect increases risks and harm to others and ourselves? That delay merely furthers exploitation of workers and families while simultaneously denying older and disabled Minnesotans access to quality, continuity and cost-efficient supports?

We don’t deserve delay. We can’t afford procrastination.

Minnesota Department of Human Services and legislators sat by and didn’t act when granted a temporary delay of the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act Home Care Rule. Minnesota’s leaders were aware of the rule. They received the December 15, 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter from federal officials.

The letter stated: We are sensitive to states’ budgetary constraints. However, implementation of across-the-board [overtime limits or “caps”] risks violating the [Americans with Disabilities Act] if the caps do not account for the needs of individuals with disabilities and consequently places them at serious risk of institutionalization or segregation. … Finally, where implementation of the Home Care Rule disrupts services, states should collect and monitor data to ensure that the service disruption does not place individuals with disabilities at serious risk of institutionalization.

Minnesota’s lack of action, funding and guidance has led to 40-hour-work week caps by providers unable to afford overtime. Older adults and people with disabilities have lost nearly 17 percent of available labor (i.e. 48 hours per week under the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act down to 40 hours under the Home Care Rule). Any reasonable person would have anticipated this outcome. Our prior workforce shortage combined with insufficient reimbursement rates from public programs left providers barely scraping by. Then unemployment drastically dropped, fueling an existing aggressive entry-level labor market and wage inflation.

Our neglect has contributed to insufficient wages, benefits, and training for workers as well as further erosion of our workforce. We can no longer compete in today’s labor market. We experience increased turnover, support inconsistency, and cost. It’s compounded our previously existing workforce shortage. Our dwindling workforce is rapidly raising the risks for citizens. Many of us are struggling to meet basic needs. People have experienced actual harm. Some must cut back on employment, education, family, friends and community activities — becoming more isolated. Some were hospitalized or moved in with family, friends, group homes or other institutions. These more restrictive and segregated settings are apparent violations of the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision and the Minnesota Jensen settlement.

Even when gifted with an earlier regulatory delay, Minnesota failed to act promptly to protect citizens who’ve struggled for several years. Minnesota failed to address historically inadequate funding for direct support reimbursement and subsequent poverty wages for workers. Minnesota’s leaders failed to promote our commonly held values around equality, justice and diligence. Disability, aging and anti-poverty community leaders failed to advocate sufficiently for these principles on behalf of our constituents. Provider organizations’ leaders failed to demand equality and justice for our clients and workers.

Requesting a similar delay for frontline supervisors of home- and community-based services after we squandered opportunities offered by the Home Care Rule delay demonstrates our complacency and lack of accountability. A delay allows continued exploitation of support workers. It continues undemocratic and discriminatory behavior of those relying on support services, continues harming our families and simply prolongs our injustices and perpetuate our injuries. Now more than ever, we need leaders who refuse to make excuses for Minnesota — leaders who refuse to enable complacency and lack of accountability. We need leaders who refuse the same ol’ band-aid approaches, who push for truly effective, long-term investments in our citizens, families and communities — investments in our ability to support each other and ourselves.

We need leaders who will diligently defend our commonly held values, demand equality, justice and diligence, and support a sufficiently large, qualified and available direct support workforce. We don’t need those leaders who would pander proposals and are incapable of addressing our real needs. We need leaders capable of unifying and inspiring our community toward bold, creative and impactful solutions.