I’d like to talk to you about your failing grade for people who need champions. You can make it up, but time is running out. In the 2016 legislative session disability service providers and their advocates asked for a hand up – not a handout. You said all the right things at the rallies and informational sessions. Then, when you had the power of the vote, you neglected to act. Epic fail.
While disability service providers across the nation work with community partners to create change and options, the state of Minnesota turned a deaf ear in the current session. Or at least that’s how it seems as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their advocates regroup and refuel for a new fight to help undo the terrible impact of your actions (and inaction!) this year.
I need to tell you that I heard something very disturbing about someone from your legislative cohort. A friend who works in advocacy was talking with one of your colleagues about disability services funding. This legislator told my friend he believed there was little chance of passage for the recent 5% Better Life campaign that would have increased the pay we can provide to the dedicated individuals who care for those with disabilities. Even worse, this legislator went on to say he expected future attempts to fall flat as well because disability services were always seen as having their hands out for more.
“Yes, yes we do.” We have our hands out, our arms outstretched, our feet pacing the halls outside of your nice offices. We drive long distances across the state to share our concerns. We are raising our voices for those who are living with disabilities and those who provide their essential services.
We have our hands out for a meager increase to bring us a little above minimum-wage-pay as we provide supports essential to daily functions for people with disabilities. Caregivers with life and death responsibilities make the same money as a fast-food fry-cook.
Maybe we do need to be louder; much louder. Maybe you don’t understand the high cost of a severe shortage of health care workers as you deny a living wage to those working in this field.
We have our hands out because you control the purse strings and because you have been stingy with those on the neediest end of the spectrum. We dearly wish reimbursement or rates were not controlled by those who don’t seem to place a value on those who have disabilities or their caregivers.
Before the Next Session
How can you get educated before the next session on the impact of current policies on vital support services? Speak to those who have their lives turned upside down when they are forced to lose supports and become true dependents. Talk to our staff members who work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, and who keep doing it because they love it and believe it is so essential. We’d be happy to connect you to someone who can tell you what that means.
The Future Without Changes
Without changes to our approved rates at the legislature, we have no recourse to change that bleak picture. Given current and future shortages in staffing, especially in rural areas, our hands are tied when it comes to supporting community members faced with limited options to find services, housing and community for their loved ones. Parents at all ages find their own health and livelihood threatened when they try to do what’s right for their family member. Just imagine how damaging this situation is for the independence and dignity of an adult living with an intellectual or developmental disability! So, yes, I’m mad as heck and I will raise my voice to whoever will listen. I’m going to tell others to holler too. We have our hands out for those who have no other resources, often because government policies have forced them to lose all of their assets in order to get the supports they require to function in the world. It’s enforced poverty and then you have the nerve to tell those with almost nothing to “make do with what they have.”
It is senseless. And cruel.
What We Expect From You, Lawmakers
- Get educated NOW, before the next session. Be sure you understand the impact of your current policies on vital support services. Find out what it means to have zero support for an increase in reimbursable rates. Understand the impact on staffing – and on real lives.
- FUND your mandates. Although disability service providers are consistently left out of the funding, even when we partner with senior services or mental health services, we are NOT similarly left out of unfunded mandates, such as minimum-wage increases. The $15 minimum wage consideration? We would LOVE to pay our workers more. It’s why we keep asking for more. Don’t tell us to do what you don’t want to fund.
We can live with disabilities. We can’t live a life with no hope, no choices and no dignity. Ultimately, our inability to pay our staff a living wage is YOUR failure, not ours. Your leadership mirrors that of the executives you disparage for taking home millions while their staff members are on welfare.
It would cost Laura Baker Services Association over $1 million annually to implement this one proposal alone. This funding can’t come from nowhere. Like most direct service nonprofits, our resources are tight, our staff spread very thin, and our volunteers overtaxed.
- LEAD us to be better people than those guided only by economic interests alone. You have a moral obligation, as an elected official, to take the high ground. I know this isn’t popular in politics right now. But leadership isn’t a popularity contest. It’s the privilege of taking a stand, making tough choices, and showing us how we can be a better society than one whose laws encourage “survival of the fittest.” Take us forward.
- PLAN to do better for the most vulnerable in your state. It’s our job as a society, and your job as our representatives, to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have what they need. This year, you earned a failing grade.
People didn’t ask to have disabilities. In spite of those disabilities, people work hard every single day to be who they are, to adapt to a world that more often than not creates barriers instead of access. Be the pathmakers through those barriers and show us the way.