Tim's Desk -- June 2021

Tim's Desk -- June 2021

Here comes the sun. It’s a wonderful thing to feel the sun on your skin. As they say, it’s what Minnesotans live for: these beautiful summer days. I hope we have plenty more, and I hope it doesn’t get so hot and dry that we have forest fires, or on the other hand, storms in the gulf causing hurricanes and tornadoes and thunderstorms.

At the capitol, the good news is that the governor and the legislature came to agreement on a framework for the budget. The bad news is that they will be going into extra innings, or a special session (they aren’t so special; seems we have them every year). What’s the holdup, you ask? Nothing we haven’t seen before. The Republican-led Senate is not agreeing with the Democratic majority in the House.

We still don’t know if there will be an increase of reimbursement rates for home and community-based services, but it’s not looking good. It sounds as though American Recovery Plan money from the federal government can be used for restructuring reimbursement rates for home and community-based services. That would include PCA and nursing wages, and possibly the legislation permitting PCAs to drive clients’ vehicles as an IADL (Independent Activity of Daily Living). But to create a structure that would allow ongoing automatic cost of living increases, there have to be state funds. The federal dollars are one-time money, and while it can be allocated over several years, it can’t be the whole solution.

As if reimbursement rates weren’t already low enough, in Hennepin County, the minimum hourly wage is going up to $15 an hour on July 1 for businesses with 100 employees or more. We could lose a lot of home care agencies. Whether the agencies are located in Hennepin County or not, if they place staff in Hennepin County, they will have to pay that rate. Most home care agencies will not be able to afford to pay the county’s minimum wage if the legislature doesn’t act quickly. Our legislators have been sitting on their hands for too long. They need to do something about a livable wage and something that will encourage people to join the home care workforce in the future.

Could we mobilize the National Guard to come out and take care of people in their homes? In 1993 when the state made unworkable changes to Metro Mobility, Gov. Arne Carlson ordered the Guard to assist in driving Metro Mobility buses. There certainly won’t be room in institutions or hospitals this soon after the pandemic. I have heard of agencies making long-term plans to close their business, giving people a chance to react and try to find safe accommodations.

On a more encouraging topic, the coronavirus seems to be letting up in the U.S. Not so much in many other countries, with India suffering the most. The Centers for Disease Control has changed their recommendation for fully vaccinated individuals, giving us a choice not to wear masks outdoors or for small indoor gatherings when everyone has been vaccinated. Gov. Tim Walz also withdrew the state’s mask requirement to follow the CDC, even though he originally planned to keep it in place until 70 percent of the Minnesota adult population was vaccinated, and only about 60 percent had a vaccination by mid-May.

At the same time, Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, was openly hesitant about withdrawing the masks requirement. She said she would have liked to require unvaccinated people to wear a mask, but that it wouldn’t be enforceable. She worries that the removal of the mandate could cause an upswing in the number of COVID-19 cases. I agree with her. Now we have to work out a way to stay safe and to make sure our young people, and unvaccinated adults, get their shots as quickly as possible.

Within days of the removal of mask restrictions, restaurants, bars, sports venues, malls and other shopping facilities ramped up their workforces to accommodate full service. But can we get back to normal so soon, with no repercussions from the pandemic? These businesses will have to deal with staffing shortages, and they will be competing with home care services for many of the same employees. Besides home care agencies, I wonder how many small businesses will not have the financial backing to reopen with the new minimum wage in place in Hennepin County.

There’s a need for all of us to write more letters and make more calls to our legislators concerning the reimbursement rates for home and community-based services. The special session is expected to be called on June 14. Before then, the legislators need to know how the shortage of workforce is affecting your life. Write them this week and let them know how many hours and days you’ve gone without a caregiver, and what you need state laws to do.

Have a great month. Be a strong advocate. Be kind.