Editor’s Column – April 2017by Tim Benjamin // April 10th, 2017
Minnesota’s House of Representatives and Senate released their target budgets on March 27. The proposed numbers are devastating to both the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), and to other state agencies. In the fourth year of budget surpluses that are larger than expected, it was very discouraging to see the exclusion of so many human services programs. Many funding requests were completely ignored, including some programs for vulnerable adults, for those with high levels of disability, and for children with disabilities and their families.
VRS, without more funding, will be forced to create waiting lists, shut down some programs or even cease all operations. It appears many legislators are unaware of the lack of funding and with the return on investment for these programs. For every dollar the state invests, the return is estimated at nine dollars in terms of increased employment and reduced state dependency. It sure seems like the wrong time to cut workforce development, with workforce shortages in almost every industry and occupation.
Best Life Alliance, previously known as The 5% Campaign, was also left out completely in both chambers’ budgets. As it stands, another year without an across-the-board increase in reimbursement rates for caregivers in home and community-based services will deeply affect individuals trying to live independently. Without care-giving staff, all the investment in disability services for independent living will be for nought. Having employment, user-friendly transportation, accessible housing, inclusive education, manageable quality homecare—it’s all useless if people can’t reliably leave their homes and live responsible lives.
The crisis of too few workers for low-paid jobs is playing out in all areas of our economy. We’re seeing ‘Help Wanted’ signs more and more every day. I just noticed that one of the school bus companies I have previously cited with a starting wage of $15.50 is now starting employees at $18.50, acknowledging that these are highly responsible jobs, getting our young Minnesotans to school safely. At the durable goods company I often use, there’s a big “Help Wanted” sign posted, and I have never seen one there before. These are many examples of employers competing for “low-wage” workers while having to offer $15 or more per hour, commensurate with the responsibilities of the position.
Even without the economic competition, most home care workers ought to be paid more simply because they work in a demanding job that is stressful and requires sophisticated skills and quick judgment. Most want to earn a livable wage in a career that they enjoy and feel confident doing. I believe that the truly good PCAs are working because they love helping people and feel rewarded by helping others. But the human rewards in the job do not pay the rent.
At the federal level, you know that the Affordable Care Act was not repealed or replaced. So for now we may have dodged many medical setbacks and possibly the Medicaid state block grant proposal. I even hear increasing talk that we are in a better place now than ever to potentially have a single-payer system much like Medicare. A universal healthcare system could be great depending on how it’s planned and implemented; on the other hand, it could be devastating to insurance companies and other medical service providers. It genuinely is problematic to know the right way to modify our healthcare system that is best for the entire system: people and providers and payers. It seems like some European countries are doing a very good job with their healthcare, but their tax rates are far higher than ours.
Keep up the contact with your legislators to include funding for the services I mentioned along with additional services that are important to your quality of life. It’s time to warm up and put the fire under our legislators to make positive moves to increase our quality of life.