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Commentary: Making progress to support caregivers

By Sen. Lyle Koenen and Rep. Mary Sawatzky Minnesota’s population is getting older and we know that ensuring we have talented, compassionate people to provide the highest quality of care for our loved ones is essential for our local communities. Over the last two years, we’ve taken steps to increase funding for our care providers, while laying the foundation for future increases because we know that much more needs to be done.

During the 2013 Legislative session, we voted for a 5 percent increase in state funding for Minnesota’s nursing homes. The funding increase went into effect on Sept. 1, 2013 and 75 percent of the increase was required to be directed to nursing home worker wages.

This session we voted for a 5 percent increase in state funding for Minnesotans who care for our seniors and people with disabilities living at home and in community-based settings. The budget is moving through conference committee and Gov. Dayton is expected to sign the measure into law, which would take effect July 1, 2014. Again, most of this increase must go to increase worker wages.

These increases will help provide a better quality of life for our seniors and people with disabilities and will increase wages for the dedicated Minnesotans who care for them.

In another step that is important for our future, the Legislature made these investments while maintaining an honestly balanced budget.

We ended the constant budget deficits that brought funding cuts and pay freezes for care providers over the past decade. We don’t have to go back far to find deep cuts to our care providers either; the previous majority (2011-2012) cut millions in funding for seniors and the disabled. In fact, the funding increase passed last year was the first increase in four years.

Responsible budgeting puts the state in a better position to approve additional funding increases in the future. After a decade of cuts, there are dozens of programs and areas of our state that have been neglected and need attention. We have attempted to balance immediate needs and critical investments in our future with responsible budgeting to avoid restarting a cycle of deficits and cuts.

We know that we must do more to support our nursing homes and home and community-based health care providers. We have met with our local care providers on numerous occasions. We have heard their concerns and we agree with them.

With years of cuts behind us, we’re finally moving in the right direction and making progress when it comes to funding for our care providers. We’ll continue doing all that we can to deliver the support our care providers need and deserve.

Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, represents District 17 in the Minnesota Senate. Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, represents District 17B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.