Bipartisan Support as Home Care Bill Clears First House Committee

Home care workers and clients address Health and Human Services Policy committee about how to address the looming workforce crisis facing Minnesota

St. Paul, MN – Today the Home Care bill, HF 844, cleared its first hurdle in the House, after a vote of 12-7 in the Health and Human Services Policy committee. The vote came after passionate testimony from home care workers and those they care for about the valuable services home care workers provide to the state and the difficulty in retaining talented workers due to low wages, lack of benefits and poor working conditions.

“As the population grows older and the demand for home care services increases, it’s going to be harder and harder to find qualified people do to this work,” said Ze’ev O’Rourke, a home care worker from Minneapolis. “If we don’t start to value this work, people are not going to be able to choose to receive care in their homes. Taking the elderly and disabled from their homes and putting them into expensive facilities is not only hurtful, but costs taxpayers far more than allowing them to keep their independence.”

O’Rourke is one of thousands of home care workers seeking to change state law to allow them to choose to form a union. The workers have been organizing with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for more than a year and are hopeful this bill will allow them the opportunity to choose for themselves.

Mitch Bushey also testified in favor of the bill, speaking about his job as the home care worker for his 25-year-old son, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation. When Jordan turned 21, he was no longer eligible for state-sponsored school. Rather than send Jordan to a daycare program, Bushey wanted to keep Jordan at home.

“I retired early from Ford Motor Company in order to take care of Jordan for the rest of his life or for the rest of my life—whichever comes first,” said Bushey. “I know Jordan’s needs and requirements much better than anybody else. If Jordan was in a state-sponsored institution they would not be able to put in the time or attention needed to monitor his breathing and help with his eating the way I do. He would be forced to have breathing and feeding tubes; he would be hooked up to monitors and confined to a hospital bed. He would require nursing level care, which would be very expensive for taxpayers.”

The bipartisan bill is authored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL – District 40A), with dozens of co-authors, including Republican Representative Jim Abeler. The bill seeks to address the looming workforce crisis facing Minnesota’s long-term healthcare programs. It would give home care workers in self-directed programs the ability to negotiate directly with the state, which determines and funds their wages and benefits.

Studies suggest the annual turnover rate for home care workers in Minnesota is as high as 50 percent. Nicole Villavicencio-Tollison testified about the services she has received from home care workers for the past 12 years, saying turnover has certainly been an issue for her.

“It is difficult to find quality, reliable personal care attendants (PCA) who are willing and able to work for low wages and no benefits,” said Villavicencio-Tollison. “When I do find someone who is really good and reliable they always end up leaving to make more money. My aunt worked for me for four years, but had to quit because she couldn’t make enough money to support her family. This has happened over and over again. When PCAs do stay full-time, they often have to rely on public assistance to be able to feed their families or get health care for their own children.”

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects demand for more than 50,000 new home care workers in Minnesota over the next 10 years. However, the core labor pool from which the state’s workers are traditionally drawn – women aged 25-54 – is expected to decline by nearly 2,000 workers.

The bill now moves on to the House Labor, Workplace and Regulated Industries committee. It was heard Monday in the Senate State and Local Government committee, which continued the bill until Wednesday.

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SEIU Healthcare Minnesota unites more than 15,000 healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care throughout the state of Minnesota. SEIU represents more than 30,000 members across Minnesota and is a powerful voice working to improve the lives of all Minnesotans.

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