Editor's column - March 2015

Here’s something exciting to offer in this last month of winter. We have a new option for reading Access Press. Now, in our new E-Edition, you can view the paper just as it looks on the news stand at your local drop site. With the support of IMED Mobility, we are offering this as a third way to read Access Press. The real advantage of this new version is that you’ll see the columns laid out, and all our ads, including IMED’s, just as you would in the paper. For now, the upper right hand corner of the online edition at AccessPress.org has a button to view this new E-Edition. In the future we will have an easier and faster way to access this new version.

Tim BenjaminIn less than exciting news, although I am lucky enough (like many of you and other people with disabilities) to have personal care attendants, I’m also finding it harder and harder to hire and retain good PCAs. There’s a perfect storm of reasons: for one, the state’s low unemployment rate means plenty of alternate job options are available for them; for another, the financial reimbursement rate for PCAs agencies means that their small profit margins are shrinking. And finally, the low reimbursement rate means that the agencies pay low hourly wages to less and less-qualified people. PCAs are squeaking by on low wages and the agencies are squeaking by on minimal profit margins.

Labor groups have been calling for Wal-Mart, other retailers and the fast-food industry to increase wages to at least $15 an hour. The PCA program has been competing with these industries for employees for many years. What will happen if those industries offer better opportunities for better wages and benefits? The PCA program cannot compete with that suggested $15 an hour. If my PCAs had an opportunity to earn that hourly wage, I would have to suggest to them to go get a job in one of those industries.

Where would that leave us? Where would that leave the senior citizen living next door or your own grandparents? It would put all of us in a medicalmodel environment, or facility settings, where the cost to the state would equate to much more than $15 an hour for a single caregiver. An incalculable cost would be related to our loss of independence, self-direction and control of everyday activities. What’s the cost of devastating people’s lives, psychologically and ultimately, physically?

This really needs to be a wake-up call to many of our legislators to recognize what dire straits these are for our PCA program. Agencies are not able to staff many of their clients without some change because they are having a harder, more difficult time recruiting, hiring and retaining good PCAs to support their clients. There are many things that could be enhanced in the program but the first thing that has to be improved is the reimbursement rates. There’s just no way that most of us will be able to retain our independence with the lack of staffing, the agencies’ overhead costs and costs for appropriate marketing to hire competent and reliable PCAs. All of us understand, with the cost of living increases our PCAs cannot live independently either on these wages.

Soon, with the baby boomers getting older and many of us with disabilities getting older, the need for good, solid and reliable PCAs is getting greater and greater. We know what will happen if there isn’t a measurable investment in the PCA program. Independent living, one of the great accomplishments of the disability rights movement, will become nonexistent.

The new PCA bargaining association, Service Employees International Union, could provide a glimmer of hope, but even the PCA union would need the legislature’s support to be able to bring the salaries of to the levels of what will soon be offered by WalMart and the restaurant industry.

Initially, Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget left out any increases to the Department of Human Services to support the PCA program. The Minnesota Consortium for People with Disabilities (MN-CCD) 5% campaign for raising reimbursement rates was not even considered. Now some legislators are saying that anything extra in the budget surplus will go to senior citizens and people with disabilities.

We can only hope that that will become reality. Stay safe, stay warm and before we know it, it will be t-shirt weather again. In the meantime, let’s talk to our legislators about the reimbursement rates, and so many other topics that affect our community. And please, support our advertisers by using their products.

 

 

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