The Health and Human Services finance and policy bill passed the Senate floor this week on a 61-5 vote. Spending $1 billion over the next three years, this bill concentrates on the disability service and long-term care sectors after months of committee hearings discussing the crisis level of workforce shortages in these areas.
Long-standing shortages of direct care staff have worsened during the pandemic, leaving individuals without the care or assistance they need in their own homes or other settings. Most of the spending in this bill goes towards rate increases for PCAs, home health care, nursing facilities, and more. DFLers successfully added an amendment on the floor that requires 80% of the revenue from these rate increases be passed through to workers in compensation-related costs. Higher wages are an integral part of bolstering the aging and disability service sectors, but we can’t stop here. To create long-term stability, workers also need basic benefits that are not addressed in this bill, like childcare, paid family leave, and earned sick time.
Childcare is a particularly glaring omission, especially in the workforce-focused bill. Staffing shortages in the disability and long-term care sectors are being fueled in part by the high cost of childcare. But with a $9.25 billion surplus, Senate Republicans are not spending one dollar to help families access high-quality childcare so they can work or go to school.
Similarly disappointing was Senate Republicans continued unwillingness to recognize the serious harms conversion therapy has on our LGBTQ youth. After DFLers offered an amendment to ban this practice, which has been labeled a form of torture by the United Nations, Senate Republicans refused any debate and ruled the amendment out of order. Republicans also refused to vote on a DFL amendment that would have moved cannabis from a schedule I to schedule II drug, in recognition of its medical applications.
The staffing shortages in our disability and long-term care sectors are serious issues, but they are not the only pressing issues our state faces. Through conference committee, DFLers will push to make sure these workers get meaningful rate increases and that other areas left out of the bill, like homelessness services, health care accessibility, and prescription drug reform, get the funding and attention they need. (SF 4410)