The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 31, 2014

Lawmakers back caregivers seeking state rate bump

State increases rates paid by 5 percent which can go to employee raises

ST. PAUL — Caregivers for the elderly and disabled scored a major victory Monday when lawmakers from both parties in the Minnesota House and Senate committed to a 5 percent state rate increase aimed at preserving quality care for more than 92,000 people.

The increased allowance, which totals $84 million a year and can go for cost-of-living raises for people delivering long-term care, is a centerpiece of budget proposals to distribute the remainder of Minnesota's $1.2 billion projected surplus. Lawmakers already devoted roughly half to tax relief and augmenting a state rainy-day account.

Entertaining thoughts of an early finish to the election-year session, legislative leaders say they'll press for floor votes later this week or early next week on each chamber's version. That would allow negotiators to work out budget differences before a planned break for Passover and Easter. Final decisions on large budget bills typically get pushed off until closer to the mandatory mid-May adjournment.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said he expects final negotiations with his House counterparts to go quickly.

"You're going to have a lot of smaller differences, but on the broad strokes it's not dissimilar," Cohen said of the competing plans.

The rate boost for caregivers was a big breakthrough. House leaders raised the amount they dedicated to that purpose Monday after previously setting aside slightly less. The Senate has also included the full amount in its budget. Gov. Mark Dayton would support a 5 percent rate increase despite proposing 4 percent initially, his spokesman Matt Swenson said.

Advocates for the new spending say it's needed to assure competitive pay and reduce high turnover among the state's 90,000 personal caregivers for people served in home- or community-based setting rather than nursing homes.

"We are not going to take anything for granted, but it is positive momentum," said Steve Larson, co-chairman of the "5% Campaign" that held multiple Capitol rallies and pressed lawmakers to make caregivers and their clients a priority. "There was a lot of pent-up demand and interest in doing something."

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