EDITOR'S COLUMN - February 2019

It seemed as though our winter was going to be very mild but then the end of January really hit hard, with crazy record-breaking cold all over the state, followed by a beautiful warm weekend and then back to normal Minnesota February temperatures. I heard a report that lake ice is very unstable this year. Even the ice doesn’t like all these ups and downs.

There was new data released from United Cerebral Palsy and the ANCOR Foundation (American Network of Community Options and Resources) in their Case for Inclusion in 2019. The annual report grades Medicaid programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on how well they serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The results of the study dropped Minnesota down to 21st place in 2019 from 7th place in Minnesota’s worst categories were “reaching those in need” and “promoting independence,” where we ranked 45th and 35th.

Those categories were shocking to me because I thought these are areas where we’ve been improving. The study showed that Minnesota is also falling backwards in its Home and Community-Based Services for people with disabilities.

“Lots of variables play into Minnesota’s ranking,” said Sue Schettle, CEO of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, an association of more than 200 providers, businesses and advocates for people with disabilities. “The workforce shortages played the largest role in our state’s slip over the last few years.” Minnesota’s Department of Human Services evaluations have shown that personal care assistants are the lowest paid workers in the HCBS workforce.

In Minnesota, there are three major groups working on legislation to address the wage crisis for PCAs and direct support personnel that seems to be the main cause of the lowering of standings for programs for people with disabilities throughout the country. Those groups are Best Life Alliance, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, and the PCA Reform Coalition.

Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of organizations, people with disabilities, families and supporters, was previously known as the 5% Campaign. Starting in 2014, the group pushed for a five-percent higher wage for staff that provide more complex care. Now the huge issue the group is fighting is to reverse a devastating seven-percent cut in state reimbursement rates that remained when then-Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the omnibus bill a year ago. There were many reasons for Dayton to have vetoed that bill, but unfortunately it meant that the legislature’s funding cut remained in the final budget.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the union that represents many PCAs and DSPs, has a two-year, tentative agreement that won’t be shared until all union members vote and approve, but the union said highlights include, “funding so reimbursement rates and client budgets will go up 2.37% for everyone, with those making the minimum wage seeing a 10.4% wage increase from $12 to $13.25; $750,000 for trainings and orientation to help workers gain and build skills; increased paid time off; and an additional increase in wages for workers serving clients who need the highest hours of care.” If the union votes in favor and the legislature votes in favor and the governor accepts the agreement, it would start July 2019.

The PCA Reform Coalition it consists of disability advocates, PCA agencies, and other human services providers in Minnesota. Using input from DHS, they are trying to build a formulary that would legislate PCA cost-of-living raises as determined by inflation and other factors. Another strategy is to insert a “competitive workforce factor” into rate formulas. They also want to address the needs of people requiring specialized supports, since the current system does not sufficiently provide for specialized training and experience. They say a career ladder needs to be incorporated into the programs to ensure that people with significant and complex needs have workers trained to care for their specific needs.

Jeff Bangsberg, chairperson of the board of directors for the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living said, “We need to reform the reimbursement rate structure for Personal Care Assistants, so that inflation is factored into state budget forecasts for PCA services. This will ensure automatic cost of living increases for both the Traditional and PCA Choice programs. We are grateful to have a large coalition joining us in this effort.”

All three groups are working on the same front: to get legislators to provide meaningful and effective support for Minnesota’s citizens with disabilities—the support required by law to ensure that they can live independently and with dignity.