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Group homes depend on cost-of-living increase

Local group homes are feeling a pinch due to cost-of-living wage stagnation at the state level, which has resulted in hiring freezes or staffing losses in many facilities.

The Pine River Area Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) is one of the luckier group homes in the state. Director Michelle Glassmann said the facility is fully staffed, unlike many others, but keeping pay rates fair and competitive has been difficult.

"Most of us are private nonprofits," Glassmann said. "A lot of them rely on cost of living. For me, I've done cuts in other areas to give my staff raises every year, but that is obviously going to be difficult with more staff. Our starting wages are at $10.50 (per hour) and it's hard for people to support their families with wages that are low like that. While we try to give raises every year, I know for other DACs it's hard to really do that. So, for me, we have maybe less office staff than other places, allowing me to make sure people get raises. It's really important to have the staff and be part of the community and make sure we are fulfilling each individual's goal who comes to attend the DAC."

In other locations, low pay rates may be contributing to difficulty in filling vital staff positions. Glassmann said most group homes depend on cost-of-living increases to help maintain wages that are more in line with inflation. There is currently a push for increases by an alliance of groups that depends on these increases called the Best Life Alliance, which is being represented at the Legislature by the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation.

"It is estimated that there are 8,700 unfilled direct support positions in Minnesota right now, and that number is growing as pay rates continue to lag behind other industries," MOHR President Mike Burke said in a news release.

"So, right now there's a bill called the Best Life Alliance Bill to raise wages for direct support professionals," Glassmann said. "That would be for group homes and all services involving persons with developmental disabilities. The bill requests a 4 percent rate increase effective in July 2017 and a 4 percent rate increase effective July 1, 2018. That's what we are trying to get passed. We do try this every year, but it doesn't always happen."

The last cost-of-living wage increase was in 2014, when the increase was 5 percent.