Editor's Column - May 2019

It might be slow and a little colder than usual, but spring has definitely sprung, and that means that the legislative session will soon wrap up and legislators can go back to their lives as farmers and shopkeepers and lawyers. There’s a lot to do before they leave, though.

The PCA program is the big news. Seems as though the union negotiated a wage increase with the Department of Human Services but the Department did not increase the reimbursement rate sufficiently. The union raised its starting wage by $1.25 per hour, but the DHS budget proposal only provides a 41-cent increase per hour. I’m not sure how PCA Choice Program agencies are going to come up with the 84 cents per hour to cover their new starting wage.

I think everyone involved in the PCA program is in favor of the $1.25 increase in the base wage for PCAs, but we need a better framework for planning and funding and sustaining wages as well as cost-of-living increases.

An unintended consequence of this under-budgeting is that PCA agencies will probably have to stop serving the PCA Choice Program, which is the only one the union contract covers. That would be a really sad outcome, because then as agencies return to the traditional PCA model, PCAs may not get the $1.25 increase in base wages. PCA Choice has proven to be a cost-effective program for all involved: the state, direct support providers, and for seniors and people with disabilities. Let’s not lose it through an error in budget planning. I truly do think DHS is doing everything in their power to resolve these issues, but both DHS and the Legislature need to hear from the community.

There are several other legislative issues that need resolving as well. I can’t urge you enough to go on to some of the websites of the organizations you are most aligned with and see what kind of action items they have for their organization’s legislative needs. Then get going on those action items.

The Olmstead Act expresses clearly the intent of the community to ensure that people with disabilities may live in the least restricted environment of their choice. But without a publicly supported PCA program, will we go back to institutions? And what would be the point? The cost analyses have been done: it’s most cost-effective, and best for people and their families, to help them stay in their homes and not in institutions.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank called all the parties responsible for implementing the Olmstead Act to his courtroom to discuss the status of their progress. DHS argued that the court’s oversight was no longer necessary, but it seemed to me that most of the people on the Olmstead Subcommittee were not in favor of having the court discontinue oversight. After considerable discussion, Judge Frank took what he heard under advisement. Personally, I think that the court oversight should continue until the Olmstead Act is fully implemented. In some respects, Olmstead requires social change that is similar to racial integration in the civil rights era, and that took far more than the eight years we’ve spent on the Olmstead Act so far.

If you look back at Access Press issues from the 1990s, there were the same problems then: seniors and people with disabilities have been struggling with terrible direct support challenges for decades. Let’s see more happen more quickly.

On a smaller scale, but important around here: one of the things taking too much time includes our Access Press website. I hope it hasn’t been too difficult for people to read the paper with our temporary website. I am still working with a couple different web designers trying to find the best fit to create the best accessible website for Minnesota’s disability community.

Well, as I said in the beginning, spring is here and it’s time for home repairs and spring cleaning (and then getting out in the fresh air and sun!). Over the last 15 years, when I’ve needed any accessibility modifications to my house, I use Ability Solutions. Look in the directory of organizations and you can get their number. Ask for Bruce and tell him Tim gave you the number. See you next month!