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Disability advocates seek funding increase

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As lawmakers decide what to do with a projected $1.2 billion budget surplus, advocates for people with disabilities say it's time to help boost funding for those who take care of the state's most vulnerable citizens.

"Basically the disability community opened our veins, and we bled when the state said we don't have enough money, and now that they have enough money, it's time to put some of the blood back in our veins," said Houston resident John Jordan, whose 43-year-old son Patrick relies on 24-hour care to remain independent.

Jordan joined hundreds of people Tuesday at the Minnesota Capitol to rally in support of a proposal to increase funding rates for in-home services by 5 percent beginning July 1. The push has been dubbed "The 5% Campaign" and during the afternoon rally in the rotunda, supporters waved flags that read "5%".

The legislation is expected to cost nearly $83 million in the next budget year and $184 million for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Of those dollars, 75 percent would be required to go toward wages and compensation for employees.

House Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, is one of the bill's co-sponsors. She said it remains to be seen whether the 5 percent request can win the necessary legislative support, but she said the proposal has a very good shot.


"The advocates have done a really super job explaining the need and getting legislators on board, and my perspective is we absolutely need to do something," Liebling said.

Hiawatha Homes Chief Executive Officer Cindy Ostrowski also made the trek to St. Paul on Tuesday. Her agency provides support for 140 people with disabilities in Rochester, and it employs 380 people. She said the funding increase is desperately needed in order to help recruit and keep qualified employees.

"We desperately need the 5 percent because we cannot attract staff, we can't retain them and keep them and they are not earning a livable wage right now. They do very important work," she said.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill. Standing before the crowd in Capitol Rotunda, she shared the story of her father, who has Alzheimer's disease and is in a memory care facility in Rochester. She said the workers who take such good care of people like her father deserve a wage increase.

Nelson added, "Every day that I am there, I see how my father's well being is tied to his caregivers in that wonderful spot and I am thankful every day."

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