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Letter: In support of the '5 percent campaign'

By District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne

I’m excited to be an ardent and eager supporter of the grassroots campaign to increase funding for the disability community and older adults, known as “The 5 Percent Campaign.”

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I was also the chief author for a legislative long-term care reform package last session intended to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities while lowering the cost to taxpayers. A five- percent increase to those who care for the disabled and the elderly will show that we value their commitment to providing quality care for those who need it the most.

The 5 Percent Campaign is committed to making life in the community the first and best option for people with disabilities and older Minnesotans, as well as their families, workers and our state. A decade of stagnation in this sector has produced significant challenges, and I believe a five-percent increase to community-based services is critical to move Minnesota back on track.

The average wage of a direct support professional (DSP) and caregiver is near the federal poverty line. With a five percent increase, more Minnesotans would be encouraged to pursue or remain in this career, which reduces turnover and increases quality of care. With the number of people receiving disability services expected to increase to roughly 83,000 in 2017, we need to be doing all we can to keep our caregivers in this crucial profession.

During the 2013-2014 budget debate, nearly $3 billion in taxes and fees were raised on hardworking taxpayers in Minnesota, yet people with disabilities and older adults didn’t see those tax hikes go to pay their caregivers more. Even with those historically large tax increases, those who take care of our most vulnerable Minnesotans could go a sixth and seventh year without a pay raise. While some of my colleagues and I offered and supported amendments to rectify that this spring, those efforts were not adopted. When there was a $6 billion budget deficit, the caregivers I talked to understood why the Legislature couldn’t give them more support. But in a year where money was found to commission a brand new Senate office building and to provide the governor’s political appointees with pay raises, these same caregivers are right to raise questions about fairness.

The $86 million request doesn’t have a funding stream attached to it, which means legislators will have to go line by line through the budget to determine where to find the needed revenue for The 5 Percent Campaign. After meeting with so many southwestern Minnesotans with disabilities and those who are there to care for them each and every day, there’s no question we need to reprioritize funds and make them a top legislative priority.