by Jeff Bangsberg
Over twenty years ago, I met Tim Benjamin, who later became my close friend.
Before he died of terminal cancer, Charlie Smith, the previous Editor of Access Press, told me he was leaving the newspaper to Tim Benjamin. I wondered who Tim was and how he could possibly fill Charlie’s shoes. At the same time, I had immense respect for Charlie and knew that Tim must have all the right qualities if Charlie was entrusting him with his life’s work.
By now, those of you reading this know what a fine person Tim was. A smart, straight-shooting, no nonsense man with a gentle, soft-spoken approach. Tim rose to the challenge of taking over Charlie Smith’s duties at Access Press. No one could replace Charlie, but Tim was able to put his own stamp on Access Press and keep it running through good times and bad. He made sure the newspaper retained its relevance to the disability community, while at the same time bringing a new element of interest.
Tim also created a new way to recognize leaders in the disability community. Every year, Access Press would host a fundraising banquet where an individual was recognized for outstanding contributions to Minnesota’s disability community. This was known as the “Charlie Awards.”
Tim devoted his energies to many different issues of concern to the disability community. He spent over a decade serving on the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living’s (MCIL’s) Board of Directors. When MCIL was in transition as an organization, Tim worked with others to lead that change.
In 2015, Tim convinced me and several others to work on the Personal Care Assistance (PCA) workforce crisis that was becoming more dire each year. Faced with the lack of adequate pay and the lack of people interested and qualified to do the work, we approached the Minnesota Legislature about the urgent need for solutions. We pushed for rate increases, better training and other policy changes to improve PCA care. We developed a second-tier payment structure for PCA’s caring for people with higher needs who have an especially hard time finding the specialized care they need to continue living independently at home. We called this the “Complex Care” rate. Tim, along with Rick Cardenas, secured the backing of Governor Dayton for this policy, which was later passed by the legislature and is now known as the “Enhanced PCA rate” for people with complex needs.
Tim was a kind and thoughtful friend, and an important leader in the disability community. I will really miss Tim, as will all those who came to know him. Rest in peace my friend. You certainly deserve it!