Editor’s Column – January 2017by Tim Benjamin // January 10th, 2017
We have celebrated the beginning of the New Year. I am glad we have 2016 behind us, but I’m also apprehensive of the upcoming political changes. The year was not a choice one for me personally; I lost several very close childhood friends, and most importantly, my father, whom I have tried and will continue trying to emulate. I also deeply miss him. These losses made the political side of 2016 less important, but also maybe even stranger. I heard remarks from both campaigns that floored me, including many statements that should’ve ended either candidate’s drive for election. I believe this campaign cultivated and expanded a division in our country, and divided our nation like no previous campaign in my lifetime. It has underscored our many separations—in religion, race, sexual orientation and wealth.
In Minnesota, the legislative session opened with Republicans taking control of the House and Senate. We will know in approximately a year if a Republican will be in the governor’s office as well. We’ll start the 2017 legislative session with a billion-plus dollar budget surplus, and many people are hoping to use some of that money to improve the state’s roads and educational systems. Others are concerned about improving the lives of all Minnesotans and especially elders and those with disabilities. As many of you know, Minnesota’s low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent and the very low unemployment rate in our surrounding states (Iowa is also at 3.8 percent, and North and South Dakota are both below 2.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) has created a critical shortage of home healthcare providers – particularly PCAs, but RNs and LPNs as well. It’s frightening to think that there is a real possibility that many seniors and people with disabilities will not have the option to live independently in the community because of this massive shortage of caregivers and the low reimbursement rates for a very stressful, responsible and physically challenging job.
It’s saddening how we as a country have let down people with disabilities, more than 25 years after the adoption of the ADA. In the magazine Governing, a 2014 article, “How States Are Failing Students with Disabilities,” charged that many states are not in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, despite the fact that it’s an $11.5 billion program. Young people with disabilities can, with proper education, work anywhere making a good, livable income and can become productive, prosperous taxpayers. But without a quality education, young people aren’t able to get skilled jobs. There is a big push in our state to employ more people with disabilities. Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order in August requiring state agencies to increase employment of people with disabilities in government jobs by 7 percent. If we’re not doing a good job educating our students, how can we hire them in state government jobs, or for that matter any public or private sector skilled jobs? The unemployment rate in the disability community is astronomical at 13.3 percent, and we all profess to wonder why. I think much of the unemployment problem is due to the lack of quality educational opportunities. And I also think that the shortage of dedicated, reliable, caring, quality caregivers affects whether disabled youth can get the supports they need for school, job interviews, and ultimately jobs. When they get a job will they have caregivers that can get them out of bed every morning and get them to work? The success of people with disabilities always goes back to the quality of the caregivers that assist them in getting out of the house day to day, and accompany them to school, work, shopping, community engagement and inclusion. We have to provide a true living wage for caregivers. PCAs are the most important resource for people with disabilities. Our communities, our state, and nation have made considerable investments in making our physical infrastructure more accessible. The state needs to continue to invest in the futures of children and young adults with disabilities to get back its investment in the ramps, sidewalks, transportation, and buildings.
I like the changes our new desktop publisher, In-Fin Tuan, has added. Maybe we should have a contest for who can recognize the most changes in Access Press. Thank you, In Fin, for your additions. We really appreciate your expertise and your extreme patience during this first issue with us.
I wish every one of you a great 2017, and I look forward to talking to you next month or seeing you at the Capitol. We have to get the young people (and their PCAs!) to the capitol demanding a good education, good jobs, and quality work life for PCAs to allow all of us to have a first-class future.