Saint Paul, MINN – State Senator Alice Johnson (DFL-Spring Lake Park) participated in a rally on Nov. 12 at the State Capitol to help raise awareness for the need to provide a 5 percent rate increase for Home and Community-based Services (HCBS) providers. This increase would raise the wages of 112,000 Minnesotans who provide direct services to the elderly and our citizens with disabilities.
According to Johnson, the median wage for these essential workers has declined by about 10 percent over the last decade. During Minnesota’s tough budget times, group homes and in-home providers took deep cuts and home care workers kept falling further behind in wages.
“Home and Community-based Service providers perform essential, life-changing services for people with disabilities and Minnesota’s seniors,” Johnson said. “However, it is difficult to keep home care workers in the field because of the low pay. The turnover rate for home care providers is at about 44 percent in the last few years because people are moving on to jobs where they can make a living.”
According to Johnson, the 5 percent increase would cost the state about $86 million a year. “This is a smart investment because these workers support the elderly and disabled to be more independent, allowing them to stay in their homes and communities,” Johnson said. “Their essential home care work can save the state money in the long run by avoiding expensive institutional care, such as a nursing home.”
A wage increase may be difficult to pass in 2014. By law, the first $225 million of any additional surplus for this biennium must go to finish repaying Minnesota schools. If additional surplus funds then remain, the Legislature will need to prioritize requests for supplemental funding, such as HCBS providers’, and those for tax cuts.
Last session, the legislature provided a $26 million increase in funding for the elderly and disabled, which will go into effect on April 1, 2014. This translates into about a 1 percent wage increase for workers. Advocates argue that without the 5 percent increase, turnover rates will continue to rise and care for Minnesota’s most vulnerable will decline.
“I understand the difficulties in passing a wage increase in a non-budget year,” Johnson said. “However, it is time we recognize the important work in-home care providers do and the lives they support by not only raising awareness of their need for a wage increase, but to include them as an integral part of the discussion of any surplus investments next session.”