The 5% Campaign is back for 2015 session for wage hike

The 5% Campaign is back at the state capitol this session, making the case for a second five percent rate increase to […]

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The 5% Campaign is back at the state capitol this session, making the case for a second five percent rate increase to support older adults and people with disabilities who receive services in Minnesota’s community-based programs. The group’s efforts met with success with the 2014 Minnesota Legislature, so all are hoping for a repeat in 2015. Members are encouraged by a state surplus but are mindful that it may not be easy.

5 percent campaignThe campaign is led by a coalition of more than 100 disability and senior community organizations. At a December press conference supporters asked that Minnesota lawmakers continue the commitment that began last session. In 2014 a five percent increase was approved and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton. That increase, effective July 2014, was the first significant wage increase in many years.

Advocates said that community-based services that provide support to older adults and Minnesotans with disabilities are a critical component to helping them live as independently as possible in the community, develop strong job skills, and find employment opportunities. Additional funding will ensure that these services are available, stable and sustainable as the number of people needing these supports continues to increase.

“Even with the July increase, rates for Home and Community-Based Services are far behind the pace of inflation,” said Bruce Nelson, 5% Campaign spokesperson and CEO of disability trade association ARRM. “Between 2006 and 2015, provider rates that pay for caregiver wages increased only 10.4 percent while inflation rose 23.3 percent.”

The 5% Campaign’s pending bill language will include a 5 percent increase for home and community-based services and Intermediate Care Facilities for Developmental Disabilities effective 2015 and 2016. These programs support 90,000 older adults and people with disabilities, and just as many jobs across the state. The bulk of the money would go to wage and benefits increases for caregivers.

Sen. Kent Eken (DFL – Twin Valley), author of the Senate’s five percent rate increase bill, said last year’s increase “stopped the hemorrhaging” and noted how wages haven’t kept up with inflation. He was also an author in 2014.

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), House author of the five percent bill, was unable to attend the news conference. In a statement, he called the increase “the right thing to do.”

Parent Joan Rothfuss, whose son receives services from Mary T. Inc. and caregiver Rosie Moriarty of Living Well Disability Services, were among those speaking for the increase. Rep. Jerry Newton (DFLCoo Rapids) and Senator John Hoffman (DFLChamplin), co-authors of the 2014 senate bill, also attended the event.

The 5% Campaign’s supporters say wages for caregivers have gone without wage increases for too long. Past budget cuts, freezes, and economic stagnation have produced significant challenges. These reductions have resulted in high turnover and difficulty retaining consistent, trusted staff, which affects quality of care.

“While the 2014 increase helped address a crisis, we need to continue to make services for people with disabilities and older adults a priority,” said Armando Camacho, President and CEO of Opportunity Partners. “Even with the recent increase, staff turnover remains a serious challenge. Additional funding will result in better compensation for dedicated caregivers, thereby boosting stability and ensuring higher quality care.”

The challenge will be making the case for the second five percent increase to be approved in two years. Eken acknowledged that the cost of inflation wasn’t factored into the spending projections, but said that legislators will have to decide how to apply inflationary increases. He said no need is greater than the quality of care for Minnesotans with disabilities and older adults.

Minnesota has a projected state budget surplus of $1.037 billion for 2015-16, according to figures released in December. Part of the surplus results from reductions in spending on health care. While a surplus can make it easier for legislators and the governor to reach agreement on a budget, 5% Campaign supporters know that getting the added increase isn’t a slam dunk.

State officials are looking at a projected $373 million surplus in the current biennium budget ending June 30, and a projected $1 billion surplus in the next biennium cycle beginning in July. But a slowdown in parts of the economy and projected drops in state revenues are red flags

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