WCCO: Hundreds rally at Minnesota Capitol to urge support for disability services

March 28 by Caroline Cummings

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Advocates and care providers packed the state capitol on Tuesday to push lawmakers to pass policies bolstering critical support for people with disabilities.

Hundreds crowded the rotunda for a rally to draw attention to disability services, an essential industry that many cautions is facing a staffing crisis and needs a boost from the legislature. They chanted “Invest in us,” and held signs that said, “Do you see me?” and “Disability rights are human rights.”

The state funds these services through a reimbursement process and base wages for staff are detailed in state law. Advocates say workers aren’t paid a livable wage that’s reflective of the rising costs at a time when inflation is still high.

“Regardless of group home or in-home care, we’re just not receiving the support and people are leaving in droves,” said Tom Gillespie, CEO of Living Well Disability Services in the Twin Cities metro. “It’s devastating to see.”

But Gillespie and others are urging the legislature to increase those reimbursement rates so pay is more competitive and people stay in their jobs. They argue without action, access to services is in danger.

Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation, or MOHR, which represents more than 100 member providers, said more than 3,000 Minnesotans with disabilities are currently on waiting lists for day and employment services due to staffing shortages. Some have waited more than three years, the association added.

“We’re short people, which means less care and less support for people with disabilities, which is not the way our world should be,” Gillespie said.

Ryan Green looks out for his sister, Laura, who relies on these services. He said the proposal at the capitol would ensure their sustainability.

“By giving back to them, investing in them, it’s going to invest in Laura and everybody is going to do better,” Green said. “Now is the time to invest in people who support people with disabilities so we all live our best life.”

As this legislative session passes its halfway point, lawmakers now are just beginning to put together large budget omnibus bills to fund all sorts of specific areas, including health and human services.

A draft of that spending plan in the House includes a nearly 16% increase in those state payment rates for services and creates an incentive fund that would provide $1,000 bonuses for recruitment and retention of workers in the industry.

MOHR wants the legislature to determine rates by the most up-to-date economic data every two years.

The House proposal would also prohibit paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage by 2025.

Read the story on the WCCO website