Guest Column: Time to address funding for disability services

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Guest Column by Jamie Becker-Finn

Jamie Becker-Finn


To paraphrase the late Hubert H. Humphrey, the moral test of government is how we treat the most vulnerable members of society — our children, our seniors and those who are ill or have disabilities. We are currently failing that test, especially when it comes to people with disabilities.

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Every year, people with disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers, come to the Capitol asking for adequate funding so they can live their lives with dignity. They dutifully follow the political action handbook, visiting legislators to share their personal stories, sending letters and homemade cards, making phone calls and attending rallies in the Capitol rotunda. Despite all this, nearly every year, when the final deals are made behind closed doors by legislative leaders, these people are mostly forgotten.

The reality is that, at any moment, a stroke, accident or disease could strike a member of anyone’s family. Suddenly you would be thrown into a situation where you or a loved one would require round-the-clock medical care in order to live a safe and meaningful life. Is this safe and meaningful life something that should only be available to those with personal wealth? Or is this safe and meaningful life something all people deserve, regardless of financial means? I strongly believe that it’s the latter.

I have had the great privilege of visiting many group homes in my district. In my conversations with residents and staff, I have heard about a diversity of individual needs but with the same shared message: Individuals with disabilities want to live with dignity just like anyone else, and the workers who care for them want to be paid high enough wages so that they can support their own families. Unfortunately, the average direct care worker in Minnesota currently earns just $12.32 per hour. These wages are tied closely to the reimbursement rate for services, which has historically not been funded adequately. Many workers are eventually forced to leave the profession, despite their desire to continue serving their clients. When the grocery store down the street pays $14 per hour, workers have little choice.

Right now, home and community based services for people with disabilities are facing a funding crisis even more catastrophic than previous years. Due to a recent decision at the federal level, the system is facing a 7 percent cut in reimbursement rates that will take effect on July 1. This cut will result in an inability to hire and retain qualified staff, as well as a reduction of services available to individuals. This could ultimately result in some direct care service providers no longer remaining operational. The people who currently rely on those providers, and their families, would be left with very few options.

We can stop this from happening by supporting an increase in the reimbursement rate at the state level, whether by passing House File 3191 as a stand-alone bill or by including this funding in this year’s health and human services omnibus bill. We as individuals must make the dignity of our neighbors a priority, and demand the same of our leaders. When the final deals are made, we must not forget to govern not only with our brains but also with our hearts. There is no time like the present to pass this moral test.

Jamie Becker-Finn represents District 42B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.