In a reasonable society, we would not put care of the disabled in the hands of those paid the least, but that’s a reality today with the state’s funding system for group homes.

A recent event in New Ulm produced the troubling facts. Group homes that care for the disabled see continual turnover that impacts residents who often rely on these workers for their basic needs, both physical and emotional.

Companies that run these group homes and work with clients in their own homes say relatively low wages they pay their workers have not kept up with inflation. New hires for MBW Co., a provider of group homes, start at $9.80 per hour in New Ulm, just above the state’s new minimum wage. Company officials say wages are easily topped by beginning jobs in the fast food industry.

As Mankato expands as a regional center, many companies, including manufacturers, have had to increase their pay by $1 an hour or more in some cases in competition with large employers like the Wal-Mart distribution center, with starting wages at about $17 per hour.

Officials at another company, Habilitative Services, say half their employees in New Ulm leave during the first year of employment.

The state does have a role to play here. It was through laws in the 1970s that many of these clients were “deinstitutionalized” from state-run facilities. State leaders wisely determined those with disabilities had much fuller lives living independently in group homes or with assistance in other residential facilities.

A bipartisan group of legislators attending the recent meeting in New Ulm vowed support for more funding. GOP representatives Paul Torkelson of Hanska and Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls, and DFLer Jack Considine of Mankato, say they see the need for more funding while Torkelson and Dahms say Gov. Mark Dayton needs to back the effort. They’re right.

The state turned over much of the government responsibility in this area to the private sector decades ago with the promise that the state had an obligation to support these populations. It’s time to keep those promises.

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