The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN CCD) handed out a pink flier at a rally at the capitol Rotunda on March 22. In large, bold type, the flier asked, “Who Cares?”
“Who cares for people with disabilities?” the flier continued. “Staff care! But unfortunately, in today’s economy, many direct care staff simply cannot afford to remain in their jobs because the pay and benefits are too low. This means that there is high turnover and vacancies in these essential programs.”
Approximately 300 people converged on the capital rotunda to attend a rally sponsored by the MN CCD. The intention of the rally was to challenge legislators to admit that they are not budgeting enough money for important programs for people with disabilities. Everyone had gathered to garner support for the cost-of-living increase (COLA) for direct care workers, expansion of the prescription drug program and an increase of the income standard for people with disabilities living on Social Security and not working. Direct care workers include Personal Care Attendants (PCA), group home workers and people who work in nursing homes.
Jeff Bangsberg and Bruce Nelson, representing the CCD, led the rally, explaining the issue and occasionally leading the assembled in a chant of “What do we want? We want COLA! When do we want it? Now!” The also introduced speakers from the House and Senate.
The first speaker was Senate majority leader Roger Moe, who told the crowd he was very supportive of the issues and understood the workforce crisis facing direct care workers. He said that he was very happy to see such a large crowd turn out for the event, and he urged them to let the governor know how important this issue is.
Senator Moe was followed by Senator Don Samulson chair of the Health and Human Service Finance committee, who said that including the 3 percent COLA in the Health and Human Services bill was a necessary step toward raising the wages of direct care workers. Next to speak was Representative Kevin Goodno, chair of the Health and Human Service Finance committee, who also stressed the importance of raising wages.
Representative Jim Abler, sponsor of the expansion of the prescription drug program, closed by saying that he felt this expansion was extremely important to people with disabilities. He encouraged the crowd to build a relationship with their senators and representatives by meeting them face-to-face at any opportunity and by contacted them on a regular basis. By doing so, disabled voters can inform the legislature of the importance of certain issues. Abler explained that it is harder for legislators to vote against an issue once they have understanding of the needs of their constituents.
During the rally, the MN CCD gathered signatures on a petition to encourage the governor to sign the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill, which will include the COLA expansion of the Senior Drug Program and an increase of the income standard for people with disabilities on Social Security. It is expected that Governor Ventura will veto this bill because of Pro-Life amendments and increased spending that the bill requires.
After the rally, a group of about 25 people went down to the governor’s office and presented the petition to Pam Weaver and Bev Tomkins, who are staff members for the governor. Tomkins informed the assembled group that Governor Ventura has been getting letters and telephone calls encouraging him to sign the bill. At this point, the office is keeping track of the number of letters that they receive, and suggested that if Ventura receives enough letters it may sway his decision regarding whether or not to veto the bill.
Governor Ventura can be telephoned at (651) 296-3391. Letters to the governor should be addressed to Office of the Governor, 130 State Capitol, St. Paul MN 55155.