Care crisis plays out at capitolby Access Press Staff // February 10th, 2017
Minnesota’s home care crisis continues to play out at the capitol. More pay and benefits for home care workers are at the forefront for several groups. Advocates got mixed news after Gov. Mark Dayton released his budget last month.
Supporters for increased pay are working against a backdrop of thousands of job vacancies in the home care ranks. It’s estimated that there are more than 8,700 job vacancies statewide.
Workers who do home-care for Minnesotans with disabilities earn less than other Minnesota workers in many fields. Home care workers earn an average of $12.32 per hour, pay directly tied to state reimbursement rates set by lawmakers.
The Complex Care Coalition is a group advocating for people who need more specialized and intensive care to remain in their homes and communities. Someone eligible for complex care needs 12 or more hours of care each day. Coalition member Rick Cardenas said the group is pleased with Dayton’s proposal.
Dayton proposes that effective July 1, 2018, service recipients with complex needs will see a 10 percent increase in the rate for Personal Care Attendant (PCA) services, and the
budgets for Consumer Directed Community Supports, Alternative Care, and the Consumer Grant Program. Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition, expressed disappointment that Dayton’s 2017 budget, although providing increases to some workers, fails to include the wages and benefits that group seeks.
“Consistent, quality direct-care staff are the foundation of community-based services for people with disabilities,” said Best Life Alliance chair and parent Pam Gonnella. “If we don’t address the workforce shortage, the entire system will crumble. Just like maintenance of roads and bridges, we must invest today in order to have a sustainable system. People’s lives are really on the line.”
The alliance wants consecutive four percent wage increases for direct care workers, effective July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. It also wants to increase provider rates to cover the cost of single employee health care coverage by July 1, 2019, to improve worker insurance.
The funds Dayton earmarked meet the state’s obligations under its proposed contract with SEIU Minnesota Healthcare. SEIU represents workers in the PCA Choice and other home care programs. Medicaid requirements don’t allow differences in payment rates based on union membership, so all workers would benefit.
It includes a raise in the minimum wage from $11 to $13
The governor’s budget goes to the House and Senate for action. It is tied to a tentative agreement announced January 5 by SEIU Healthcare. The contract, which needs to be ratified by union members and state lawmakers, would also provide more than $1 million in state support for worker training. It offers new stipends to reward employees for taking additional instructions to improve quality of care.
The holiday pay provision is significant because it’s the first-holiday pay for Minnesota home care workers; with time-and-a-half pay for two holidays. It also includes an online matching registry, to help home care clients find employees and to help home care workers find clients.
The tentative agreement took four months of negotiations with the state. The negotiating process included clients. Jim Carlisle, a disability rights advocate who has received home care services for more than 40 years, was a member of the bargaining team. Carlisle said the changes agreed to in negotiations would, if ratified by the union and state lawmakers, represent significant steps forward in addressing the care crisis thousands of families across Minnesota currently face.
“My wife and I both rely on home care workers in our day-to-day life,” said Carlisle, who lives in West St. Paul. “As the current care crisis has grown, we’ve seen the harm to families like ours across the state because of the lack of quality caregivers. I was proud to be on the union’s bargaining team and to have a chance to help reach this tentative agreement that would raise wages, invest in training and improve benefits to help attract and retain the quality home care workers we need now and will need even more as our population ages.”
Dawn Burnfin from Chisholm, a home care worker and mother of five who was also part of the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota bargaining team, praised the agreement. “I am passionate about my job and proud of the good work home care workers do keeping Minnesotans safe and in their homes. The gains in the tentative agreement would begin to make home care workers feel like our time, skills and work are just as important as other jobs,” said Burnfin. “I hope elected officials who aren’t yet affected by the care crisis understand it may not be long before you or your spouse or your parent will need someone to care for them. When that time comes, do you want someone well-paid and well-trained, so your loved one gets the care they deserve?