Well, February brought us back to a more typical Minnesota winter. In the Twin Cities, we had four consecutive days of “high” temperatures below zero, and in Greater Minnesota, overnight temps often went into the double digits below zero. Throughout the Midwest, all the way down to the gulf shore of Texas, we saw unusual cold temperatures and massive power failures. And of course, the COVID pandemic continues to ravage the country. We still don’t have enough access to vaccines, and the new more contagious variants are on their way here.
I hope you have received some news about your own options for the vaccine. If not, keep going to DHS’s Find My Vaccine site, and contact your local pharmacy and doctor to make sure they know you want to be vaccinated and are on their list. We all are hoping for life to go back to normal when we have “herd immunity” with 75 percent of people vaccinated. As things are going, we’re not to get to herd immunity until fall, unless we start speeding up. President Joe Biden has procured enough vaccine for everybody in the U.S. The manufacturers will be able to produce 3 million doses a day soon. If the U.S. can start vaccinating three million people a day, and Minnesota can start vaccinating 50,000 people per day, we can get to 75 percent by May. Let’s start aiming for that!
In Washington DC, the cold of winter is felt even in our government. Many of our political leaders are giving the cold shoulder to one another over the insurrection on January 6 and the impeachment of our previous president. There is still tremendous fallout over the way the transition of power in our government took place. Whatever side you’re on, it has really affected our democracy in many ways, some that we may not see or recognize for years.
In Minnesota government, the disability community is still struggling for compensation for our direct support professionals (DSPs) or personal care attendants (PCAs). Over the last 12 years PCAs have received only a thirteen-cent-per-hour raise, according to the 2020 legislative report. Under current law, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has limited ability to increase wages, because of lack of sufficient data on the total costs, including administrative cost, of providing services. It’s very clear to agencies, clients and the DSPs themselves that the program has been underfunded for many years, at approximately $12.38 an hour average wage. We who use the PCA programs are all struggling to find caregivers, competing with fast-food franchises and the unemployment supplement provided during the pandemic.
The state has proved to itself again and again that the alternative to funding the PCA program is to fund nursing homes, a far more expensive option for the state, and a far more restrictive one for people with disabilities. Without PCAs at home, people are forced into group facilities, stripping away the kind of person-centered rights that are guaranteed by the state’s Olmstead Plan, which requires care in the least restrictive environment.
The Minnesota Legislature must address these issues more completely. For instance, in the last two biennial budgets, legislation increased the minimum wage that agencies could pay PCAs by $2.25 per hour, but only budgeted additional reimbursements of 68 cents per hour to the provider agencies. That meant that agencies could pay more only if they did so out of their own profit margins. And they already have to pay for unemployment, Social Security, worker’s compensation taxes, training and overtime for four holidays a year plus all the other unseen administrative costs out of the reimbursements they receive. To learn more about this, go look at SF 497/HF 663, https://tinyurl.com/sf497, and there you’ll be able to see the wording in proposed legislation supported by the Minnesota First Provider Alliance.
In other legislation, a current detail in the law governing PCAs assisting in Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) says that IADLs include travel to medical appointments and participating in the community. It’s not specific about the kind of travel, and who drives. Agencies have been differing in how they interpret this, and some forbid their employees to drive for the client. A whole group of disability advocates are supporting a clarification in this law to specifically state that IADLs include PCAs who are “driving and accompanying the recipient in the recipient’s chosen mode of transportation.” You can find more about this legislation by reading Senate File 984 https://tinyurl.com/2021sf984.
If you’re interested in helping with any of the legislation above, lots of groups welcome your involvement. The PCA Reform Coalition, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and Minnesota Council on Disability are active on Facebook and often post updates. Contact the Minnesota First Provider Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another way to follow bills is at https://www.leg.mn.gov/leg/legis with the bill tracker.
I want to congratulate Nina Harrison for being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota on February 16. She will be a contestant in the Ms. Wheelchair America in August in Grand Rapids Michigan. Unlike traditional beauty pageants, Ms. Wheelchair America is not a contest to select the most attractive individual. It is a competition based on advocacy, achievement, and communication to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities. Good luck, Nina!
Have a good month, stay warm and get involved!