On national day of action, home care workers & clients demand emergency funding increase from legislators as low pay & benefits continue to hurt seniors & people with disabilities facing a“care crisis” made worse by COVID-19
As Minnesota grapples with the need to address racial disparities, protest shines a light on how racism and sexism continue to degrade the home care workforce that is 90 percent women and disproportionately women of color
SAINT PAUL – Nearly 60 cars and dozens of wheelchairs took to the streets Wednesday afternoon in front of the Minnesota Capitol demanding action on the home care crisis that is hurting thousands of families across the state. Despite bipartisan support, legislation that would provide a 15% temporary rate increase during the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to pass during the original legislative session and the subsequent special session. House Democrats passed versions of the rate increase, as part of larger COVID related packages, in both the regular and special session. In their demands for a living wage and basic benefits, workers and clients call for a change to the exploitative history of disabled people and those who care for them.
Because of the low wages and benefits, there is a “care crisis” in Minnesota that left over 8,000 unfilled positions before COVID-19, which means seniors and people with disabilities aren’t able to get the care they need to safely stay in their homes. The protest called out how the whole care system was built on racism and sexism that continues to degrade the home care workforce that is 90 percent women and disproportionately women of color as Minnesota grapples with racial disparities that are some of the worst in the nation.
One of the speakers was Brittanie Wilson, a self-advocate and a client who has received PCA services for over 15 years. Wilson talked about the frustration that inaction is causing thousands of Minnesotans and how the recent uprising following George Floyd’s murder have showcased how issues are connected.
“Societal beliefs say that we’re not worthy of accommodations because they cost too much and that we’re burdens. Societal beliefs say that PCAS don’t deserve a livable wage or access to PPE, all because those they serve aren’t worth it. But society and our lawmakers can’t hide behind these excuses anymore. If we want any chance at real change then we must make our lawmakers understand that they are hurting us and our caregivers by not doing their job and passing this bill,” said Wilson. “I’d also like to remind everyone that half of the black lives that are lost due to police brutality are disabled people. As a brown woman I am here, ‘your fight is our fight and Black disabled lives matter!’”
Another speaker at the event was Adrienne Kleinman, a Minneapolis resident who uses her voice to inspire change and bring perspective to those around her. Kleinman has used a wheelchair since she was 3 years old and at the event she shared the hurt and anger as she’s feeling from the PCA Emergency Bill not being passed.
“I use a motorized wheelchair due to having a form of muscular dystrophy. I am totally reliant on others to assist me with grooming, showering, positioning, cooking, cleaning, organizing, errands, and all of the minute and major things that you must do for yourself in a day. I can not do any of those things without another human being present. I struggle recruiting the folks to help me do any of the previously mentioned things because they don’t think $13.25 an hour is worth it,” said Kleinman. “I’m sick of being forgotten, cast aside, hidden, reduced to a body that simply isn’t worth the time or importance to help out. I’m sick of being an afterthought. Pass the PCA Emergency Bill and compensate home healthcare workers for being on the frontlines. Do your job and finish what you started!”
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota brings together over 25,000 home care workers across Minnesota. Union home care workers and the clients they work for believe that every Minnesotan – no matter our race, zip code or wealth – deserve the right to live safely in our home. But right now many home care workers who provide critical service are paid as little as $13.25 with no health insurance because our leaders have refused to act.
To start the program, as the cars circled with messages like “Do Your Job” “Fund Homecare,” “Abelsim Sucks” and “Rise Up Homecare” written on their windows circled the Capitol and honked, Home care worker and Indigenous Autistic activist Jules Edwards shared what thousands of Minnesotans have been facing as legislators continue not to act.
“Homecare has been in crisis for years. The Minnesota legislature has had a bill to provide a 15% home care funding increase sitting on their desks since February, but has failed to pass it twice, despite bipartisan support! Home care work evolved out of domestic slavery and institutional disposal of disabled people. Care labor has always been paid as little as legally possible, back to when that labor was stolen,” said Edwards. “Today we face a global pandemic where disabled people are at increased risk of severe illness and death and over 80% of covid deaths are occurring in long term care facilities. We’re facing staffing shortages due to low wages and the general public shrugs their shoulders and claims that this pandemic isn’t a big deal because only the elderly and disabled are at risk. But we are not disposable. Today, we are demanding the 15% funding increase, but we know that the work doesn’t end there.”