Advocates for people with disabilities and direct care providers of services to people with disabilities praised a mid-January decision by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) not to appeal a recent court decision that ruled a 20% wage cut to direct care workers was illegal. The cut would have taken effect on July 1 for more than 6,000 caregivers who care for and support their relatives with disabilities living at home.
“The Arc Minnesota applauds this decision by DHS,” said Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director for The Arc Minnesota. “We are glad that family members can now continue to provide care to their loved ones without further worry about this issue.”
Tim Plant, Executive Director of HealthStar Home Health, one of the parties to the lawsuit to overturn the Ramsey Court ruling, also applauded DHS. “We are glad that the Department of Human Services decided to pursue a fairer policy of paying direct care staff. Now, family and non-family PCA workers who do equal work under the same standards and training requirements will receive the same pay, as they should.”
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in fall 2012 that the 20 percent pay cut is unconstitutional. “The distinction created by the 2011 amendment between similarly situated individuals is arbitrary and does not provide a natural, reasonable or substantial basis to justify legislation providing for unequal pay for equal work,” Appeals Court Judge Terri Stoneburner wrote in the majority opinion.
DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson told reporters that the cut was one she didn’t want to make. The cut was made at a time DHS had to cut about $1 billion to balance its budget.
In newspaper and television reports, family members hailed the decision. The Star Tribune interviewed families including the Lane-Adams family of Fridley.
Johnnell Lane has spent the past five years cooking, cleaning and running errands for his 48-year-old mother, Tracee Adams, who has asthma, high blood pressure and other conditions. Adams, who also suffers from anxiety, said she prefers to be cared for by her son. Lane said the DHS’ initial prediction was correct and he would have continued caring for his mother, even with lower wages. But that didn’t mean it was right. “She’s my mom,” he said. “I know I’d do it anyway.”
It wasn’t a very well thought-out stopgap measure,” David Bradley Olsen, an attorney who sued the DHS on behalf of eight home-care agencies and nine relative caregivers, told the Star Tribune. “The legislature didn’t even determine that the value of their care was different.
They assumed that relatives had some kind of moral bond and they would continue to work whether they were paid less or not.”
The wage cut was approved at the end of Minnesota’s 2011 special legislative session, with no public input. Done as a budget-balancing measure, it reduced the pay of relative PCAs by 20%. PCA agencies filed suit but a Ramsey County District Court ruling in March 2012 upheld the cut.
The Arc Minnesota and other disability advocates worked to pass legislation in 2012 to eliminate the wage cut. The Minnesota Legislature and Dayton temporarily reversed the cut, but only until July 1, 2013. Funding that restores the direct care staff members’ wages is included in the governor’s state budget for the next biennium.
The Arc Minnesota is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. It has 12 affiliated local chapters across the state of Minnesota.
HealthStar Home Health, based in North St. Paul, provides a variety of home health services and personal care assistance to help Minnesotans stay in their homes and maintain the maximum amount of independence.
Info from The Arc Minnesota, Star Tribune and other media was used to compile this article.