Organizations that provide services for people with a variety of mental and physical disabilities gathered at Alexandria Opportunities Center (AOC) to make their case for the “5 Percent Campaign” to a group of state legislators on December 13.

The campaign is calling for a 5 percent increase in state funding for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), organizations similar to AOC that provide services for people with disabilities and the elderly. This would match the 5 percent raise the Legislature passed in the spring for nursing home workers.

Legislators who attended the meeting included Senators Bill Ingebrigtsen and Torrey Westrom, and Representatives Jay McNamar, Bud Nornes and Mary Franson.

AOC Executive Director Mike Burke started the meeting by showing legislators some of the options local organizations have for their clients. These jobs included small assembly and packaging of different corporations’ products, including items from Tastefully Simple.

After observing the action on the floor, the group retreated to a conference room where staff from seven different organizations explained why the 5 Percent Campaign was necessary for them to move forward.

It has been five years since these services have received a budget increase to keep up with the rising costs in the economy. A 5 percent increase would help in the funding for community-based services and facilities and give direct support professionals (DSPs) and caregivers a pay raise.

Community-based services and facilities provide people with disabilities and older adults an opportunity to be involved in their communities and become more independent. The organizations’ staff explained to the legislators that these services were the most economically efficient route by keeping these persons out of institutional care, saving anywhere from $1,000 to $2,600 per individual.

DSPs and caregivers’ yearly earnings currently sit above the federal poverty line by only $500 for a family of four. Keeping consistent staff members is crucial to provide quality care for the individuals that benefit from these services, but has proven difficult to do when professional work is receiving low pay, according to the caregivers.

A final point made at the meeting was that the increase would in the end strengthen Minnesota’s overall economy. The clients receiving wages from the labor they provide are able to pay taxes and purchase goods in their local communities.

Both Ingebrigtsen and Westrom said they would add their name to the list of legislative supporters at the end of their visit. Nornes and Franson are already supporters.

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Organizations represented at the gathering were AOC, Douglas County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC), Productive Alternatives, Grant County DAC, Stevens County DAC, Wilkin County DAC, and Prairie Community Services.