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Considine planning another push for more caregiver pay

Free Press - 8/2/2019

Aug. 2--MANKATO -- While the Minnesota Legislature increased state reimbursements earlier this year for caregivers who work with the elderly and disabled, Rep. Jack Considine plans to reintroduce legislation that would increase their wages up to $14 per hour.

The Mankato Democrat said he believes lawmakers haven't done nearly enough to ensure personal care attendants, home health aides, direct support professionals and other types of caregivers are adequately paid for their work helping vulnerable adults.

"I just find it reprehensible that we have not dealt with this," he said.

Minnesota caregivers make $11.50 to $12.22 an hour on average, according to the Government Accountability Office. But rural caregivers typically make less than similar workers in the metro area, with some in south-central Minnesota making a little more than $9.50 an hour.

Caregiver pay depends on state and federal insurance reimbursements, which is why advocates have lobbied lawmakers over the years to increase reimbursement rates to give workers raises.

Advocates gained some ground at the Capitol this year after a 7% cut to the state's Medicaid program in 2018. Lawmakers agreed on increases to part of the state's reimbursement formula as well as mandated studies every few years on how caregiver wages compare to industries with similar work requirements.

Yet those increases don't necessarily mean worker pay will increase by the same amount. Industry experts say the increase only affects the state's competitive workforce factor, which is one of several factors that go into Minnesota's insurance reimbursement formulas to fund care providers.

For direct support professionals alone, that's a 4.7% increase to part of their reimbursement formula. That translates to an average of 4 percent across the state -- meaning some caregivers could see less of an increase while others could see more, depending on what providers do with the money.

Providers are mandated as part of this year's wage increase to publicly report what they do with the extra money. Most providers will likely put that extra funding toward staff, according to Drew Henry of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, which represents caregivers who work with people with disabilities.

"It's not a direct encumbrance, or earmark for these staff wages, but it's demanding a pretty significant level of transparency," Henry said. "It's saying that if you're not going to use the funding for workers, you better be pretty darn confident in your rationale not to do that."

Considine said though he welcomes the open accounting of how the additional funding is spent, he's concerned the money isn't mandated to go toward wage increases for workers.

"They have been shafted so often that I am not willing to leave this up to chance," Considine said. "These people need to be able to raise a family and not live in poverty relying on state and federal programs to feed their children."

Providers have pushed for better pay for more than a decade to combat a growing workforce shortage.

A 2018 state fiscal analysis found a 17% gap between caregiver wages and workers in comparable industries with similar types of training. That matches what many nonprofits and provider companies are finding, as caregivers often quit for better pay at retail and restaurant jobs.

Across the state, caregivers have about a 45% turnover rate with 60% of caregivers in their first year quitting to find a new job.

The Best Life Alliance estimated several years ago Minnesota had more than 8,700 caregiver job openings. ARRM, which represents about half of the Best Life Alliance's caregiver and provider businesses, estimates more than 10,000 current job openings among their membership alone.

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(c)2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

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