Low wages hampering caregiving, officials say

Workers helping people with disabilities in short supply

MARSHALL — An important — and often overlooked — segment of society is facing a crisis — people with disabilities who need caregivers.

Minnesota’s Home and Community-Based Services allow people with intellectual and physical disabilities to receive services tailored to meet their needs. It could be help getting to work or help with medical care. But direct care workers are in short supply, according to officials involved with the services.

They say low wages are a major reason for the high turnover rates and unfilled positions. The problem is local, statewide and national.

“It’s a workforce crisis issue,” said Dawn Wambeke, the executive director of Advance Opportunities, which provides employment and training for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. “There are over 8,700 unfilled positions in the direct care industry It’s really impacting our ability to support them in their jobs.”

“Direct care workers who assist people with disabilities have demanding, highly-skilled, professional jobs and should receive competitive wages, according to a news release from Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations, people with disabilities, families and supporters advocating for Home and Community Services.

HCBS direct care workers in Minnesota earn on average $12.32 an hour. This pay is directly tied to state reimbursement rates set by lawmakers and that pay has not kept up with rising costs over the past decade.

The continuation of chronic undercompensation and unfilled positions will lead to more costly scenarios including an increase in emergency room visits and hospitalizations, mental health crises and dangerous health consequences, says the Best Life Alliance.

Help could be at hand.

“Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, has chief-authored the Best Life Alliance Bill on the Senate side,” said Wambeke. “What they’re asking for is an increase in funding to 4 percent this year and 4 percent next year and then a 4 percent increase would be given to direct care staff in wages.”

The Best Life Alliance bill would affect more than 80,000 direct care workers statewide.

It also provides for the development of a long-term solution for funding health insurance for direct care workers by July 1, 2019.

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