Public before policy

As someone who studies public policy for a living, I work hard to make sure that the “public” always comes before “policy.” All too often, our public policies get derailed by partisan politics. Sadly, this is exactly what happened to one of Minnesota’s Personal Care Attendant programs. But thankfully, the stories of amazing PCA caregivers make it easy to celebrate the public, the people, behind the policy.
Minnesota’s Choice PCA program was created in the 1970s when the Legislature wisely decided it was more humane and more cost-effective to care for persons with disabilities in their own homes rather than in a state institution. The Legislature funds a Medicaid benefit, given to a person with a disability, to pay for PCA care at home. Most often, PCAs are family members or close friends.
This PCA program, an example of good public policy, was created to support persons with disabilities and their families. But that all began to change when Gov. Dayton and his allies, under the guise of helping “low-wage health care workers,” declared these home-based PCAs “state employees,” but only so they could be forced into a government union. If that seems odd to you, you are not alone.
It is hard to follow the pretzel logic of the deal, especially since the Legislature could just increase the Medicaid benefit used to pay PCAs, if that was really the goal. The sad reality is the 2013 Legislature’s action was just a cynical ploy to give the Service Employees International Union new revenue to spend on its political agendas and candidates — all at the expense of the disabled, PCAs and the taxpayer.
The 2013 legislation, an example of bad public policy, triggered a labor election and, due to low voter turnout, the SEIU won the biggest labor election in Minnesota history with just 13 percent support of eligible PCAs. It just does not seem right, especially since most PCAs did not even know there was a vote. We estimate that SEIU is now taking in $4.7 million a year in dues.
In response, a coalition of caregivers and advocates called MNPCA.org was formed to demand a new vote.
“The Legislature and Congress fund and authorize these benefits, so the union adds nothing in this context,” said Doug Seaton, MNPCA’s attorney, “and should be removed.”
“Doing so,” added Catherine Hunter, a mom and PCA in Burnsville, “will protect the program for families caring for a disabled family member and end the SEIU’s interference in pursuit of its own agenda.”
MNPCA has a very short window of time to demonstrate a “showing of interest,” defined as handwritten signatures of 30 percent of PCAs, to call for a new vote. It’s a huge task. To make matters worse, the state and the SEIU have blocked their effort at every turn.
Getting signatures requires a good contact list. The SEIU receives updated PCA contact information every two weeks. But when MNPCA requested an updated list, the state stalled for five months and refused to give them accurate information, instead giving MNPCA two bad lists. Also, the SEIU and state began negotiating a new contract almost a year before the current one expires. If that process is completed before MNPCA gets a new election, the decertification effort will be defeated.
With the window to call for a new vote rapidly closing — the last date to file for a new election is Dec. 2 — MNPCA took the state to court. Ramsey County Judge Awsumb ruled that PCAs must be given the data they requested. Yet even with a judge’s order, the state failed to give MNPCA a complete and accurate list. MNPCA asked the judge to help but for now has to assume the deadline will not change.
I have had the pleasure of working alongside the PCAs leading MNPCA. Some are moms, some are grandparents, others are brothers and sisters, and some aren’t relatives at all. Their peace of mind was shattered by this union campaign, replaced by a daily anxiety about how the SEIU will insert itself into their lives. They are outraged that a union is taking precious Medicaid dollars to fund lobbying and candidates.
MNPCA is doing everything it can to reach enough PCAs and get signed cards so they can be counted this time.
MNPCA does not have resources like the SEIU or the state, so we need your help.
If you are a PCA, please visit MNPCA.org and send in your election authorization card today. If you know a PCA, please share this story. — Kim Crockett is vice president and senior policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment in Golden Valley.