Freddie Tinsley, 56, of Fridley gave up his career as a machinist and trained to be a personal care attendant for the disabled so he could look after his twin brother, Eddie, whose diabetes and other issues have cost him a leg, several toes and his equanimity.
No other caregiver could handle him, Freddie said.
Michelle Neish, 20, of Mendota Heights became a personal care attendant so she could afford to be the daily caregiver for her grandmother, who is disabled by severe heart disease and diabetes.
Her grandmother speaks only an obscure Filipino dialect that's hard for any nonfamily member to understand, Neish said.
Tinsley, Neish and nearly 7,000 other Minnesotans who are paid by the state to care for their low-income disabled relatives were in for a 20 percent pay cut this fall, until a judge intervened on Oct. 26.
Ramsey County Judge Dale Lindman's temporary restraining order put the payment reduction enacted by the 2011 Legislature on hold.
Lindman's next move ought to be to scrap it for good. The GOP Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton chose poorly in agreeing to save $24 million at the expense of families that are struggling to do right by disabled relatives.
Even if Lindman finds that this discriminatory cut passes constitutional muster, the Legislature and the Dayton administration ought to ease it in the 2012 session.
This cut disrupts lives in ways that run contrary to the best interests of anyone involved, including taxpayers.
In many cases, if the pay cut goes forward, relatives will no longer be able to afford to work as care attendants.
For some, that will mean that nonrelatives will take over the work, even though those people lack the social bond that is often key to keeping a disabled person in his or her own home.
When a disabled person is institutionalized, the state's costs rise, even as the quality of life that person experiences often declines.
Neish relies on her personal care attendant income to pay her college tuition. She says she'd be forced to look for other work if the newly enacted cut stays on the books.
That would leave her grandmother either to sporadic unpaid care from untrained family members, or to care by someone with whom her grandmother could not communicate -- both unsatisfactory options.
For other families, the state's reimbursement cut will mean a disproportionate sacrifice for doing what's best for a loved one.
"I'll always take care of him, because he's my brother," Freddie Tinsley said of Eddie. "But this cut will really make life stressful for us."
Personal care attendants are generally paid between $10 and $11 an hour.
The legislators who proposed squeezing relatives' reimbursement, and the Dayton administration officials who agreed to it as part of the shutdown-ending budget deal in July, were aware that it would cause hardship.
Republican Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka argues that it beat the alternative -- deeper cuts to all providers of personal care services. That move would have put some caregiver firms out of business, which in turn would put care out of reach for some disabled Minnesotans.
Abeler's rock-vs.-hard-place explanation says much about the handcuffs that no-new-taxes thinking has put on state lawmakers. There were other options for securing the care that the state's disabled adults require.
But to the extent those options involved even modest increases in state taxes, they were discarded out of hand by the Legislature's Republican majorities. That left only cuts on the table.
"You don't cut $1 billion out of the human services budget without hurting people," said state human services commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
Human services spending has grown much more rapidly in the past decade than any other part of the state budget. It needed reining in.
But doing so in ways that heap hardship on vulnerable people is not worthy of the state Minnesota aspires to be. Cost-saving reform that drives down medical inflation for everyone is a smarter approach.
So is an acknowledgement that some of Minnesota's shared needs are great enough to warrant higher taxes.
* * *
Readers, what do you think? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please fill out this form. Follow us on Twitter @StribOpinion and Facebook at facebook.com/StribOpinion.