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Wisconsin Campaign Makes Economic Case for LTC Investment

PHI

Dinah Cardin - PHI
03/30/2009

In October PHI reported on efforts by a Wisconsin group to improve the quality of caregiving jobs in that state ("Wisconsin Launches State-Wide LTC Campaign," October 23)

Now the Wisconsin Long Term Care Workforce Alliance has launched a grassroots campaign to promote awareness of the link between direct-care worker wages and economic growth, right when state officials are debating how to allocate funds received from the federal economic recovery package.

Titled the Wisconsin Wage Initiative for Frontline Caregivers, the campaign highlights two PHI fact sheets and makes a strong case for the claim that improving the quality of direct-care jobs is directly linked to improving the state's economic health.

The average wage for direct-care workers in Wisconsin is currently $9.72 per hour, far less than the $13.25 per hour estimated by The Economic Policy Institute as a living wage for a family of four.

In its official statement, the Alliance says, "Improving the quality of these jobs. . . is not only vital to our social infrastructure, but has the potential to drive economic growth. Given the demand today, and future growth, these occupations, if adequately compensated, are uniquely positioned to help repair and stabilize our faltering economy."

Barb Wisnefski, the Alliance's chairperson, calls direct-care jobs "an untapped engine for economic growth in Wisconsin" whose potential may be "even bigger than shovel-ready types of jobs like those in the transportation and infrastructure sectors."

Andrea Hansen, a member of the Alliance and Chair of the Coulee Region LTC Workforce Commission, amplified this point when she spoke before the state's Joint Finance Committee on March 23.

"Today, we are asking that you think beyond 'shovel ready to 'family-ready jobs — jobs that can build and strengthen WI's most important infrastructure:  The Infrastructure of Care that is in most need of repair," she said in her prepared testimony.

"We also believe that investment in this workforce would unleash the economic power of direct-care workers who are unable to purchase basic household necessities, save for education, and get off governmental programs that help their families with health care and energy assistance."

But this reasoning may be lost on some governmental officials. Wisnefski points out that the federal government sent $1.2 billion to Wisconsin for Medicaid, but Governor Jim Doyle asked the Department of Social Services to divert $415 million of this for other purposes.

She calls the governor's budget "a missed opportunity," pointing out that it fails to mention Medicaid reimbursement rates and direct-care worker wages, two key issues the Alliance focused on in the position paper they published last October.

"We're saying [the governor's budget] is unacceptable," Wisnefski says. "For years we've been asking for increases so that workers who are the heart and soul of long-term care can maintain a living wage. But now, on the first occasion when we've had stimulus money like this, the governor doesn't care. He used the $1.2 billion to plug up the holes in his budget."

She and other Alliance members are now hoping the strength of their arguments will convince lawmakers to take action.

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