It isn’t often the warring factions at the Minnesota Legislature fall all over each other to spend money.
But the 5 percent solution — a statewide push to raise the pay of care providers for the elderly and disabled — has produced a unified Greek chorus of support from DFLers and Republicans.
At this Easter-Passover break point in the 2014 session, the proposal to raise payments for such services provided in homes and communities by 5 percent, which will add an estimated $184 million cost to the state’s two-year budget, is sailing through. It was built into the House and Senate budget bills, is supported by Gov. Mark Dayton and has caused the two parties to spar mainly over whose love for care providers is the most ardent.
Last week, in one of those theatrical flourishes that mean little outside the confines of the Capitol, the parties battled over whether the 5 percent solution would be voted on separately, as the GOP preferred, or as part of an “omnibus” budget bill, as the majority DFL decreed.
As always, the majority won. But each side emerged with a roll-call vote they can use in this year’s House elections to show their support.
What makes our partisan Legislature sing off the same page?
“I think frankly because it’s the right thing to do,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “These are the people who are the most vulnerable in our community.”
“Issues that impact people with disabilities have no boundaries,” said Steve Larson, co-chair of the 5 Percent Campaign, a coalition pushing for the increase. “Whether you’re rich or poor, no matter what race you are — it can impact anybody’s life.”
Funding for nursing care and home- and community-based services goes to every legislator’s district and traditionally has been an area of comity amid the daily partisan strife at the Capitol.
This year’s bill does not apply to nursing homes, which received a similar increase last year. It concerns those workers who care for people in the clients’ homes, in group homes or smaller community facilities. There are an estimated 91,000 such caregivers in the state with a current average wage of $11.55 per hour, according to advocates for the increase. They care for roughly 68,000 people with disabilities and 25,000 elderly clients.
Their duties can include housekeeping and cooking, working in group homes, helping with medical care, bathing, driving, translating and connecting disabled people with jobs and other opportunities in the community.
Clients and caregivers who descended on the Capitol this year described the relationship as a social lifeline for people who might otherwise be cut off from their neighbors.
Larson, a senior policy director for the Arc of Minnesota, which advocates for people with developmental disabilities, said advocates began organizing after last year’s session. At that time, nursing home workers received a 5 percent hike and home care workers received 1 percent, which became effective only this month, he said.
The campaign included personal contacts with all 201 legislators, as well as visits to programs in legislators’ districts to show the importance of the work. Once finance officials declared that Minnesota’s budget had a surplus of $1.2 billion, the 5 percent solution moved up on everyone’s wish list. Daudt says Republicans in the House pushed hard for the full 5 percent increase, which initially was proposed at 4 percent by Dayton, due to the 1 percent hike awarded last year.
Supporters say a decade of state deficits has held caregivers’ wages flat, and since nearly every penny for these services comes from state and federal coffers, only the government can raise the caregivers’ pay.
There is another reason why liberals and conservatives can unite behind this bill.
In a fact sheet accompanying his statement of support, Dayton noted savings to the state when elderly and disabled people are cared for at home rather than in an institution — savings estimated at nearly $20,000 per year for an elderly person and $11,000 for a person with disabilities.