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As a case manager, I support families in searching for housing and maintaining their tenancies. I'm intimately involved in clients' lives. I meet clients at shelters and in their homes, get to know their children and coordinate services with landlords and relatives. I receive $45,000 per year for this work, for which I'm privileged and grateful. However, my labor costs more than an annual $45,000. Society undervalues helping jobs like case management.

American society deems case management disposable for its association with femininity. Caregiving jobs don't involve the "masculine" production of tangible materials. Most of my colleagues are women; underpaying a female-dominated profession is sexist. Moreover, patriarchal dynamics stigmatize the sensitivity and empathy required for effective client-provider collaboration.

Every week I emotionally support families who share deeply painful experiences: relatives killed and imprisoned, children sexually violated, siblings shot, becoming unhoused. I'm emotionally taxed by these interactions, and as a case manager, I'm ethically responsible for ensuring my well-being. My own mental health is paramount so that I can help my clients improve their health and well-being. However, Minnesota does not provide enough income for me to care for myself, and I stop short of giving the most to my clients.

My employer is funded by county, state, federal and private money, but my colleagues and I are not underpaid due to insufficient state finances. In 2023, the seven-county metro area initiated a quarter-cent sales tax, worth $700 million and meant for affordable housing funding. This spring, Minnesota Housing, the state housing finance agency, received $1 billion more than its $190 million annual budget. The Minnesota government recently projected a $2 billion surplus for 2024. When I asked my employer for a raise in September, I was denied due to inadequate funding. Case managers live under constant financial stress despite the wealth of their community.

That $45,000 falls short of what's necessary to maintain a decent standard of living in Minneapolis. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a federal organization that partially funds my employer and supports national efforts to end homelessness, uses rent burden to describe the situation of Americans who spend 30% or more of their gross income on housing costs. I paid $1,237.22 in rent and utilities last month, which represented 33% of my average monthly income of $3,750. I'm paid, in part, by the people who define rent burden, yet I'm rent-burdened.

According to HUD, 40% of local one-bedroom units cost $1,327 or less, including gas, heating, water and electricity. My September housing costs, $1,237.22, were $89 less than the federal government's maximum definition of affordable rent and utilities for a local one-bedroom ($1,327 marks the 40th percentile for one-bedroom rent-plus-utilities in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI HUD Metro Fair Market Rate Area.) I live decently but without the capacity to save.

My $45,000 salary makes me lucky. Entry-level case managers receive $42,000 to $46,000 per year at my employer, and despite serving the homeless, we are burdened by housing costs. In order to pay rent, my colleagues and I rely on second jobs, food shelves, mileage reimbursements and romantic cohabitation. The dedicated workforce within nonprofit organizations requires compensation that secures a life free from the constant fear of housing instability.

Nonprofit organizations across Minnesota are grappling with funding shortages. My salary is competitive, but attracting and retaining quality case managers is worth the investment. Employee decamping represents an unethical loss of knowledge and experience. Minnesota cannot end homelessness without holding onto its best case managers. Nonprofits need more state funding, and we need better salaries.

I am asking for a minimum $54,000 annual salary for all Minnesota case managers. With a $54,000 salary, I could afford a one-bedroom unit at the 40th percentile of local one-bedrooms. I'm not asking for wealth. I'm asking for financial stability and the capacity to share my best with the families I serve.

I urge Gov. Tim Walz and our local legislators to support workers who empower the unhoused. The Minnesota state government can fairly compensate Minnesotans who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. Please give me a raise.

Tom Vatterott, of Minneapolis, is a case manager.