The December 6 announcement of a record-breaking, $17.8 billion state surplus means the chase is on at the state capitol. When the Minnesota Legislature convenes January 3, lots of great ideas for spending at least part of the surplus are going to be brought forward.
Part of the surplus is $9.3 billion left on the table at the end of the 2022 session. We remember all too well how that ended for us and for so many of our disability-focused bills. We had a lot of needs left waiting.
One glaring need is that of addressing the direct care catastrophe in our state, and to demand wages that can support our workers. Recent media reports about people with disabilities who have faced amputation due to poor care or lack of care are highlighting an issue Access Press has focused on for years. We wonder how many have died due to poor care or no care at all?
You cannot have care without adequately paid staff. The Best Life Alliance is back this session, calling for long-term, sustainable adjustments to the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS). Changes the alliance seeks would update the way disability waiver rates are set to reflect current economic conditions and support providers in raising the wages of their direct support and supervisor staff in an effort to stand up and stabilize disability supportive services.
One key change would be to change the date of data used for current DWRS adjustments. Current law determines adjustments to the DWRS based on data that is 30 months and one day old. This results in adjustments that are based on economic conditions from three years ago. As we all know that data has greatly changed — especially with our recent inflation trends. Best Life Alliance proposes using the most currently available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics when adjusting the DWRS.
Another important change would be to fully fund the “competitive workforce factor” based on the most recent Department of Human Services analysis and allow for automatic adjustments every two years.
The 2019 Minnesota Legislature created the factor in 2019 to support higher wages for direct support professionals, but it hasn’t been adjusted since its creation. The alliance proposes updating the factor based on recommendations from DHS beginning in 2024 and 2025 and every two years after that.
Another ask is in move up the November 2024 increase in January 2024 and create another increase to January 2025 and every two years after that: The next scheduled rate adjustment for the DWRS doesn’t start until November 2024. It is to be implemented on a rolling basis, as individuals’ service authorizations are renewed. This means many clients will not see any rate adjustments until 2025. The alliance proposes moving the next adjustment up to January of 2024, and allowing for an additional adjustment in 2025 and every two years after that.
Providers simply cannot wait this long for adjusted reimbursement rates to support increasing wages for direct support professionals,” the alliance stated.
One adjustment to the DWRS would ensure that supervisor wages don’t fall below the direct support professional wage, by setting a floor for supervisor pay.
Other more technical changes are also badly needed. One would be to remove unit-based respite from DWRS. Currently, respite provided for less than 10 hours a day is billed in 15-minute increments. It is subject to the DWRS framework rate versus the daily option which is a market rate service. Making unit-based respite a market-rate service would be in alignment with how daily respite is currently operating. That would eliminate inconsistency and provide greater access to the service.
Another would be to raise what are called employment exploration standard occupant codes to align with employment development. The codes are used to form the base wage for the employment exploitation service, which is meant to keep the service someone accesses when they are ready to move into a competitive, community-based job.
None of this is rocket science. But it is long overdue in being addressed. And the Best Life Alliance cannot do it alone.
We know this kind of spending will have “tails” that will go on for years. We know it could get set aside to meet one-time wants and needs.
But lives are at stake here. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective over time to keep people in their homes and home communities, instead of forcing people into group homes and nursing homes? Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to provide quality care up front, rather than paying for more costly care later?
Everyone who cares about equitable, living wages and quality of care needs to speak out on this