Tour for lawmakers draws attention to shortage of personal caregivers

A shortage of personal care attendants for the disabled is predicted to get much worse in the next decade. It’s an issue that needs to be tackled both in Washington D.C. and at the capitol in St. Paul.

On Wednesday, the owner of a personal care agency, who struggles to find and keep workers because of low wages, organized a tour for lawmakers to draw attention to the issue.

The tour called "What about Steve?" stopped at two locations in the Twin Cities

Lawmakers met Steve Christenson at an apartment, which he shares with his elderly parents. The 53-year-old, who has Multiple Sclerosis, worries what happens when they can't take care of him anymore.

“What am I going to do?” said Christenson. “I don't want to go to a nursing home. You don't want to go to a nursing home.”

Steve and his mother told lawmakers and a representative for both of Minnesota’s U.S. senators that they do have a personal care attendant to help for part of the day. But they explained it's a struggle to keep a good one..

“As soon as they find a job that even pays $12 they quit,” said Christenson.

Reimbursement levels are $17 an hour. After agency overhead, the wages are about $10 or $11. This is after a five percent increase a few years ago.

“It gave a little bandage and that was about it, but it didn't fix the systemic problems that exist regarding funding and reimbursement at both the federal and state level,” said Sen. John Hoffman (D-Champlain).

The second stop of the tour was in St. Paul. Tim Benjamin, a quadriplegic and advocate for the disabled, requires personal care attendants around the clock.

“We're in a crisis situation here right now,” said Benjamin. “There's a good chance I could be hospitalized because I don't have someone to take care of me.”

“I and a number of colleagues are saying we ought to be doing this and we ought to be doing a lot more than five percent more,” said Sen. John Marty (D-Roseville). “We ought to be giving people living wages and people who care for other human beings, that's the most valuable job in our society.”