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Poverty pay for professional work? Commitment to community: Advocates launch 5% Campaign

by // August 10th, 2013

Just 5 percent. That is what Minnesotans with disabilities, aging adults, care providers, family members and advocates are requesting from the 2014 Minnesota Legislature. The 5% Campaign is getting momentum to reverse years of funding cuts to reimbursement rates to home and -community based services. Advocates with disabilities, older adults, caregivers, providers, and family members throughout Minnesota are launching a major campaign for what they call a “long-overdue” rate increase.

Erin Zolotukhin and her son Max advocate at the capitol so he can receive adequately-funded services and quality staff.

Erin Zolotukhin and her son Max advocate at the capitol so he can receive adequately-funded services and quality staff.

Nursing home workers received a long-overdue 5 percent reimbursement increase from state lawmakers in 2013. These workers will see some of that in their first wage increase in several years. But facilities and direct support providers for people with disabilities and older adults only saw a 1 percent increase in the final health and human services bill. When the 1 percent increase takes effect in 2014, the average worker will get an additional 12 cents per hour, according to campaign groups.

“This year our elected officials placed a high value on education, property tax relief, and balancing the state budget. But one priority they missed was adequate support for people with disabilities and older adults,” said Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director at The Arc Minnesota.

“This is a very important effort, and one you will be hearing a lot about in the weeks and months to come,” said Bruce Nelson, executive director of ARRM, a residential facilities advocacy group. Members of the 5% Campaign argue that people with disabilities and older adults have as much value as other Minnesotans, and that the state should show that it values them by providing adequate funding for their services. Costs that continue to climb every year have been hard on organizations and institutions that provide services, and just as hard on their direct care employees.

Since the 2013 legislative session ended in May, advocacy groups have been preparing to launch the 5% Campaign. Many groups are asking state legislators for a 5% rate increase for aging adults, people with disabilities and home- and community-based services in 2014. Those include Aging Services of Minnesota, The Arc Minnesota, ARRM, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD), Minnesota HomeCare Association, Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, Minnesota Developmental Achievement Center Association and Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation. Additional groups are expected to join the campaign.

Direct support workers and their clients will be in the front line of the campaign. “Most direct support workers make about $11 an hour, and need more than one job just to pay their bills,” said Sam Subah. He has worked for Living Well Disability Services (formerly Dakota Communities) as a caregiver for people with disabilities since 1998.

The 2013 annual update of federal Health and Human Services poverty guidelines indicate that $11 an hour or $22,000 a year is below the poverty threshold of $23,550 for a family of four. An income below $31,322 would make an individual eligible for programs including: Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Individuals like Subah, who take care of the most vulnerable Minnesotans are eligible for poverty level programs.

Subah considers his clients to be like family. “I used to have just one job, but the cost of food, gas, everything kept going up. Now working three jobs at 57 hours a week, I still can’t afford health insurance for my three kids and my wife.”

During the 2013 legislative session, Subah told his story to legislators at a hearing. He believed his testimony was well-received. Upon learning that legislators didn’t approve the requested 5 percent pay increase this year, he was devastated, frustrated and upset. “I felt like the ladder was pulled out from under us. But we can’t give up,” Subah said. But legislators indicated that they could only fund so many requests.

Subah said that his pay doesn’t reflect the difficulty and stress of the work he does. “Someone might be screaming, and you have to figure out what is going on. People may not be able to speak, so when they are in the hospital, we advocate for them with doctors and make sure food is prepared properly. We give emotional support. The job is physically and mentally exhausting, but I love what I do.”

Between 2007 and 2011, provider rates dropped by 0.1 percent, while inflation increased by 9.9 percent. Campaign advocates maintain that the 1% rate increase slated for April 2014 falls short of addressing the years of cuts. 2013 marks the fifth year in a row that services for people with disabilities and older adults have not received rate increases to keep up with rising costs of living.

The lives that many people with disabilities and aging adults build for themselves depend on the state for critical support. Members of the 5% Campaign say these critical supports allow people to be more independent by providing staffing, housing and transportation so that people can be active employees and volunteers in their communities, fostering skill development, ensuring health and safety, and more.

Community-based services affect approximately 37,500 individuals and support thousands of jobs in Minnesota. Advocates say they are an efficient use of funding in the face of continued state budget woes. For example, the average cost of support for an individual with a developmental disability in Minnesota is about $12,000 less per year in the community than in an institutional setting.

The 5% Campaign encourages everyone to join their cause by talking with their legislators at the State Fair and MN-CCD’s upcoming Town Hall Forums, and by following ARRM’s weekly series “All in a Day’s Work: Caregiver Stories” through February.

The group asks supporters to “like” their Facebook page at facebook.com/5PercentCampaign, where updates and additional ways to get involved will be posted. To add an individual, family or an organization’s name in support of The 5% Campaign, or for more information, contact Steve Larson at 651-604-8077 or stevel@arcmn.org.

 

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