April is one of those (12) months in Minnesota where the weather is unpredictable. It’s not that unusual to have beautiful warm days followed by cold, snow or rain. And we all know it seems like the cold is harder to take when it comes after a 70-degree day.
Just like the early warm weather we got, it looked like we were getting a break on the COVID front earlier this year. But now the number of cases seems to be on the rise again, with all the new variants emerging. I’ve had both doses of the vaccine and it has made me feel a lot safer, but it seems as though people are still getting sick, and even a few who have been vaccinated are acquiring the virus. I hope you’ve gotten your shots, and that the vaccine, along with continued masking and distancing, keeps you safe from the virus.
At the state capitol, it’s the typical end of the session rush before May 17. By the time you read this, we will know much more about all the health and human services legislation. But if the legislature goes into a special session as it has so many times in recent years, we will have to keep watching and advocating. You might want to keep a close watch on the Access Press Facebook page. It’s a good idea to follow Access Press Twitter posts, too.
The most important legislation for the disability community are the two bills addressing the state’s unsustainably low reimbursement rate for personal care assistance (PCA) agencies. As you know, the lack of PCA rate reform has caused serious problems over the last two decades, and we’re at a crisis point now. Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) has found that there are at least 7,971 unfilled PCA jobs in Minnesota. House File 663 and Senate File 497 must be passed.
I urge you to contact your legislators to let them know that your life depends on the PCA program, along with 44,000 other Minnesotans who use the program. Without the passage of these two bills, the program will die, and those of us who use the PCA program will be out of luck because we simply won’t be able to find PCAs as agencies dwindle and the number of open jobs increases into the tens of thousands. Literally, our futures depend on it.
I’m not sure how many people who use the PCA program could survive in a nursing home or a congregate care facility. I know it would bankrupt my wife and me. We would have to impoverish ourselves, paying all of our hard-earned retirement savings for a nursing facility. We would ultimately lose our home and any independence. I would lose my ability to continue working under the Medicaid for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) program, and the state would have to support both of us. How is that cost savings? How is that humane? It’s not! It always seems like the PCA program is a high priority for legislators until the end of session when budget decisions are made. While they talk a lot about how they support the programs, and many really do want to be humane and respect the dignity of seniors and people with disabilities, it’s been years since they have put their money where their talk is.
President Joe Biden has introduced his “American Jobs Plan.” If it becomes law it would mean the federal government will invest $400 billion in supporting “the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.” I hope that our federal congressional delegation will actively work for enactment of the plan. With a serious investment like this, the state could overhaul our PCA program and build a strong and essential pay framework to increase wages based on the cost of living and comparable jobs. In the meantime, though, Minnesota needs House File 663 and Senate File 497 passed, to sustain us until the American Jobs Plan can help.
I wrtote this as we all wait for the verdict in the George Floyd murder case and the next steps in the death of Daunte Wright. It’s a terribly sad situation we have going on in our cities concerning police and the racism that seems to run through our community. As disabled people who continue to fight for our civil rights and independence, I hope we can visibly stand with people of color in this state. Oppression and inequity are our mutual enemies. I’m not sure how we will do all that needs to be done but things have to change in the way we look at others; we need to reconsider who we fear and who we trust. We need to live in hope and value each individual Minnesotan. The vast differences in equity between White and Black, between disabled and able-bodied, must not exist. The New York Times published an article, “Minnesota is one of the best places to live in America. Unless you’re black.” Let’s change that.
I hope you stay healthy in the beautiful month of May.