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Update: Minnesota elderly, disabled seek more state funds

Minnesota Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, holds up a chart showing that inflation is growing much faster than state aid to disabled and elderly community-based services. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Advocates for Minnesota's elderly and disabled are back at the state Capitol asking for money on top of new funding they just received.

Legislators earlier this year granted a 5 percent increase to many programs for the elderly and disabled. Now, community-based programs for those groups want another 5 percent boost.

"It stopped the hemorrhaging," state Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said Monday about the earlier increase, adding that more is needed.

"We haven't been keeping up with inflation," he said. "In fact, not even half."

The bill Eken and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, plan to introduce soon after the legislative session begins Jan. 6 would raise state aid 5 percent, with three-quarters of it required to be passed on to caregivers themselves, not used in administration or for other purposes.

The new bill would not include nursing homes, Eken said, unlike the one enacted earlier this year.

The 5 Percent Campaign, a coalition of groups supporting the increase, says 90,000 Minnesotans are under care of people who would get more money under the bill.

Joan Rothfuss, whose son is in a group home that would get more money under the bill, said a problem she sees today is that workers get too little money and thus leave the job for more pay.

"The solution is simple: If we pay caregivers more, they will stay on the job longer," Rothfuss said.

Rothfuss and others at the 5 Percent Campaign announcement said that job turnover leads to inconsistent care.

Rosie Moriarty has a son who upon birth showed so many problems that he was not expected to live six weeks; he now holds a job, but remains under care. Moriarty is a professional caregiver for Melanie Kett, who now is wheelchair bound, in Mendota Heights.

Kett, a multiple sclerosis patient, and Moriarty's son may have disabilities, but Moriarty said that does not make them "abnormal." She said they have the same rights as others, and improving caregivers' pay helps the disabled and elderly live better lives.

"It shouldn't be a job where caregivers compete with McDonald's," Eken said.

Eken's bill does not address where legislators would find money for the 5 percent increase.

The senator said that even though a $1 billion surplus was announced last week, it will be eaten up by inflation. So, Eken said, money could need to come from some state programs' inflationary increases.

Editor's note: The last sentence of this story has been removed because it contained incorrect information about a possible funding source for the program.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.