A coalition of people with disabilities, their parents and the organizations that care for them is asking the Legislature for an extra $90 million next year to boost pay for caregivers.
The new group, which calls itself Best Life Alliance, says the new money will address a shortage of workers willing and able to provide services to the 90,000 Minnesotans with disabilities and older adults who need special care.
The effort has drawn a bipartisan alliance. State Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and state Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, appeared together at a Tuesday news conference announcing support for the new funding, which would be a 5 percent rate increase to home and community based service providers, aimed at better pay for caregivers.
Dean is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. He said recent savings in the state's health care programs for the needy should be directed to disability programs.
The coalition and the proposed funding increase come on the heels of a recent Star Tribune series that examined shortfalls in the state's treatment of people with disabilities. The request also comes as the state is sitting on a budget surplus of more than $865 million, a number that could grow after Thursday's state economic and budget forecast.
Other groups like the aged and people with mental illness fared well in the most recent legislative session. The Legislature approved $46 million for child and adult mental health services, surpassing the record amounts allocated under the Pawlenty administration. Nursing homes, meanwhile, received a 5 percent increase for the next two years that Dean said is already having salutary effects, especially outstate.
Pam Gonnella of Eagan, a co-chair of the group, is the parent of Sarah, who was partly blinded and left without speech after a childhood brain injury. Gonnella said she called her daughter's group home recently, only to hear the tears of a worker who said despite her passion for the job she had to leave due to low pay and extreme hours.
Sam Subah said he has been caring for people with disabilities for 20 years, but always has to work a second or third job to make ends meet because of the low pay.
"There were times that I felt like leaving and finding another job that pays more," Subah said. "But each time I came face-to-face with making that decision, I felt like I was walking away and leaving them more vulnerable than when I first got there."