PCA funding cap has many negative consequences

I work at Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) and speak as a personal care attendant (PCA) provider who has listened to many concerns from consumers and direct support professionals (DSPs) on some proposed changes to PCA services. This is my message to Minnesota’s 45,000 PCAs and DSPs and their families. 

The message is very simple: ”The State of Minnesota respects home care workers’ right to a livable wage.” State lawmakers can very easily deliver this message by making sure that their support is not behind the recently proposed legislation which would limit the total number of hours that a home care worker could work to 248 hours a month; and no more than eight hours per day.

The timing for this proposal could not be more debilitating for the state of Minnesota. The median wage for a home care worker in Minnesota is currently $10.61. Please consider this scenario: If a DSP is working 256 hours with one agency and an additional 20 hours with another agency, and he made $10.25 an hour, before taxes he would be earning $2,829 for the month. If that same individual were only permitted to work 248 hours, he would only be able to earn $2,542, a difference of nearly $300. Home care workers are budgeting down to their last pennies with their existing wages. I ask you to think about your constituents, and what they would say to you if you asked to take $300 a month from them.

DSPs earn very low wages and very few have access to affordable health coverage, paid time off, retirement or any other benefits. Working with multiple clients and agencies to earn a livable wage is basic survival for many DSPs right now. If this proposal is adopted, we will see an even greater dependency in our already-depleted food shelves. We’ll see an even greater rise in unemployment, because these second job helps to pay for child care, over-the-counter medicine, bus fare and gas in the car to get to work. When you take away access to livable incomes which allow a family to thrive and get ahead, the entire foundation of independence, dignity and prosperity becomes a lost dream. The resources to help rebuild from this potential crisis are far more costly than these meager savings.

I am especially concerned about the 310 hours cap per month on PCA services. I believe that supporting this proposal creates an economic war on DSPs. It sets an unfair labor standard that suggests anyone who isn’t a DSP is allowed to work more than one job. But if you are a DSP and you worked 40 hours with one consumer and then part-time with another consumer with a different agency, that additional income will no longer be available to you. This is not the kind of job market or economy that displaced workers will readily find comparable secondary income. 
For consumers that use a DSP for a vacation, conference or other activity away from home, DSPs currently can be expected to work up to 16 hours per day, per labor regulations. This proposed change mean that the consumer would have to bring along two DSPs to ensure their needs are met and the DSP time doesn’t go over their legal time allotment.  

For consumers who have been allocated more than 10 hours a day and who have only one DSP this forces them to have a second DSP; two workers earning poverty level salaries. Some of these consumers choose not to hire another caregiver for privacy, continuity of care and dependability reasons.

I understand that some very difficult decisions need to be made to come up with a balanced budget. If the 310 cap has to be a solution that will prevent further cuts to consumers’ services and DSP wages, then consider my suggestions for how to make this 310 cut more approachable and more balanced for all involved.

• The 310 cap has to be a monthly average. If we break it down into a weekly average as some have suggested, we run a greater risk of an agency not getting reimbursed for wages paid to a PCA, as the current protocol seems to be first agency to bill is the first to get paid. We also need to be mindful of not limiting staffing options that are needed on an emergency basis or for vacation or other purposes.

• DHS will need to develop an on-line tool that will allow providers to go in and check the bi-weekly hours that have been billed under a PCA provider number. 

• Agencies will need documented protocols and provider support regarding wage and hour disputes that will be brought on by PCAs who continue to work more than the 310 hours per month. This tracking by providers is yet another additional administrative requirement that will not be matched with financial compensation. 

• We must push for the inclusion of PCA/DSP workers in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. PCA hours are being reduced, Barriers are being put in place to them working additional hours that they and their families have come to budget for. The very least we can do is assure that they are under the same classification as other workers and receive the same rights and protections, including overtime after 40 hours, not 48.

To make sure that the right message is delivered across the state for all home care workers, you must personally get involved. Please visit the following websites to identify who represents you in your district and to get involved in future DSP advocacy efforts. None of us can risk silence any more. Speak out on how a reduction in your income or a shortage in your staffing options will affect you!

I ask lawmakers to NOT support this proposal. To do so would create barriers to employment that no other labor market imposes on its workers. More so, to support this proposal would send the message to Minnesotans that home care workers do not provide a vital, cost-savings service to our state. The residents of Minnesota respects home care workers’ right to a livable wage.

Brigette Menger-Anderson works for MCIL. The preceding article was excerpted from oral/written legislative testimony.