By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Minnesota lawmakers are settling in for a debate that’s expected to go all night long. It’s the $11 billion measure that pays for Health and Human Services programs, including hospitals and nursing homes.

Senior care attendants can make more money working at Walmart than they can at a Minnesota nursing home. Democrats are proposing pay hikes, but critics say it’s just not enough to do much good.

Nursing home workers haven’t had a raise in more than four years, and their average hourly pay is $9 an hour with limited benefits.

Dozens of rural Republicans say nursing homes are the largest employers in their districts, and 115 facilities are at risk of closing without a substantial funding increase.

Rep. Paul Torkelson (R – Hanska) says without better wages, small towns will pay a big price.

“They can’t afford to pay a decent wage. They can’t afford to offer benefits, and if your largest employer in town can’t offer a decent wage and provide decent benefits, what do you think that does to a small town?” Torkelson said.

Democrats are proposing the first pay hikes years, with a 3-percent increase for nursing home workers and 2 percent for long-term care workers. But it’s partly paid for with income tax hikes and a new surcharge on hospitals.

Rep. Erin Murphy, the DFL’s majority leader, notes that Republicans – who controlled the legislature and the governor’s office – froze nursing home salaries and cut home and community-based care services.

“They don’t have a real plan, and they don’t really have credibility on this issue,” Murphy said.

This year, new Democrats say they will raise income taxes to make up some of the difference.

“If seniors are such a priority to them, then why was it last year that that they wouldn’t ask millionaires or billionaires to offer up one penny of revenue to pay for their budget?” Murphy said.

Republicans are questioning why Democrats are proposing tax hikes approaching $2 billion dollars, and not spending more on nursing homes.


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