Under disability flag, advocates held all-night vigil at Capitol seeking decent pay for attendants

 

 

Good morning Austin:

About 25 people in wheelchairs and other disability advocates spent last night into this morning on the sidewalk in front of the south sate to the Capitol, an all-night vigil to protest to a state budget that they say, unless it is changed, will decimate services, especially attendant care, without which many of those with disabilities will not able to continue to live independently and will have to rely on far more expensive and less desirable nursing home care.

 

 

Here is Cathy Cranston of ADAPT of Texas and the Personal Attendants Coalition of Texas, explaining why they were there.


It was a somewhat familiar scene.

From a First Reading in May of 2015, Kafka’s Law: `You never look good arresting disabled people ‘

Shortly after ten last night, 15 advocates for the disabled and the attendants who serve them, many of them in wheelchairs, were charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the Governor’s Reception Room and the area surrounding the entrance to the Reception Room, which they and about 15 others had been “blockading” for nearly 12 hours. The Capitol generally closes at 10, unless the House or Senate or a hearing is running later than that.

From my story in today’s paper, written before the arrests, the advocates wanted Gov. Greg Abbott to throw his weight behind raising the base pay for those home care attendants serving those on Medicaid to a more livable wage of $10 an hour.

Roughly 30 advocates for those with disabilities were demanding that he press the budget conference committee to raise the pay of community-based home care attendants to $10 an hour.

Right now, the base wage for those attendants is $7.86 an hour, without any benefits, sick leave or vacation, which the advocates say makes it hard to find and retain people who can help the elderly and those with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. Attendants assist with the basic tasks of everyday life and enable their clients to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities.

The House budget would add $60 million to the state Health and Human Services Commission to increase that wage by 14 cents an hour. The Senate budget would add $38 million, increasing it by 11 cents an hour. The governor’s budget proposal asked for $105.3 million to “recruit and retain personal attendants,” increasing the base pay by 40 cents, but still well shy of the $10 that advocates said would make the work competitive with the fast-food industry.

Bob Kafka of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas, said it would cost $480 million over two years to raise the base wage to $10 an hour.

Flash forward nearly a year.

Last year’s protest yielded a 14-cent increase in the base wage, up to $8 an hour.

And, that’s where it will remain unless some new money is found or some change is made in the budget in conference.

Kafka:

I will tell you, the whole atmosphere this session is so much different. Texas is always conservative. We’ve had bad sessions. But this one, we feel, is more targeted on Health and Human Services.

I think there is a hatred for Medicaid in this state. People, when they think of Medicaid they think of Obama and they think of Obamacare and they can’t get away from that. From the top to the bottom.

From the very beginning when the Health and Human Services commissioner (Charles Smith) showed his exceptional items there were two things there that were fairly decent exceptional items. The wage (for attendants_ was going to be raised from $8 to $8.50 and the waiting list (for disability services)  they had like a 20 percent reduction.

When (Smith) made the first presentation to the Finance Committee, the $8.50 disappeared, it was gone.

We’re assuming he got orders from the top.

Since last session, Walmart committed to a $10 minimum wage, Buc-ee’s is at $12 to $14, all the major corporations. So now the competition for low wage workers is going to be more difficult and since there are no benefits in the Medicaid system, no sick leave, no vacation, we think there is going to be a crisis. There is a crisis.

The conference committee is the last bastion.

 

Josue Rodriguez, an advocate from El Paso

Kafka, Cranston and a few other advocates met with Gov. Abbott in his office on Jan. 11, a meeting that was arranged after they showed up last year at a signing for the Governor’s book, Broken but Unbowed, a few blocks from the Capitol at the Texas Public Policy Foundation building on Congress Avenue.

They met with Drew Deberrry, the governor’s policy director, and MC Lambeth, Abbott’s adviser for the Department of Aging and Disability Services.

And then with Gov. Abbott.

The meeting with the governor was cordial, Kafka said.

“The only thing the governor said was that this was a tight budget,” Kafka said. “He said he would look at it.”

“I don’t know even what prompted it,” Kafka said of the meeting. “But we have met with every governor since Ann Richards. We’re equal opportunity. We slept over when Ann Richards was governor,

And then this, from the AP’s Jim Vertuno on April 10, 2003.

Twenty-five activists for the disabled, most of them in wheelchairs, were charged Thursday with criminal trespassing when they refused to break up a protest in and in front of Gov. Rick Perry’s Capitol office.

Chanting “Gov. Perry, What do you say, How many crips have you cut today?” the disabled-rights group ADAPT staged a demonstration to protest potential budget cuts in services, including in-home attendant care and medication.

Perry met with them.

Abbott, of course, like Kafka, uses a wheelchair.

“He usually ignores disability services,” Kafka said.

“He made a commitment to meet us again,” Cranston said.

Early last evening there was one hopeful sign. Perhaps.

A thin man in a gray suit and a kindly manner approached the temporary encampment on 11th Street and greeted Cranston.

He asked her to give him a rundown of where things stood and what they were looking for.

It was John Colyandro, executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute and the Texas Conservative Coalition, and a close adviser to Abbott.

Kafka and others had met with Colyandro a couple of times before Abbott became governor.

“It was a good relationship,” Kafka said. “Colyandro really built that relationship.”

Before the vigil, the disability advocates had done a mock funeral procession for community attendant services through the Capitol.

“We were marching through the hallways earlier, (Colyandro) came down one of the hallways, came over and shook hands and said, `Hey, Bob.’ I didn’t give him any materials.”

That would explain him dropping by later to ask question.

To what end?

“We’re hoping that they are going to find money basically to improve the health and human services and especially those things that will keep people out of institutions,” Kafka said. ‘It’s the old Midas commercial, You can pay me now or you can pay me later. It’s just simple economics.”

The decision to do the all-night vigil as tactic this year was a group decision.

“We have this thing called the democracy of the doers,” Kafka said.

“That’s how it works,”

After a dismal hearing in the House that seemed to doom their chances of getting what they needed out of its budget, Cranston said, they met to plot what to do next.

“We threw out a lot of ideas,” she said.

“We thought about having somebody coming down on a string in the middle of he rotunda,” Kafka said, a la Mission Impossible.

Or, Cranston, “taking over a hearing or going into (Appropriations Committee Chairman John) Zerwas’ office.”

“From our perspective, where could we have some impact or get this,” she said, referring to some media attention.

Danny Saenz, an Austin advocate, speaks before a television camera at the vigil.

The group chose the vigil.

“And the sad part about Texas is, as low-budget as we’ve been, we have been moving forward, but this session is I think unique in terms of so much is being targeted on the programs that keep people out of institutions,” Kafka said. “Somewhere it’s going to bulge out with more institutions or there is going to be abuse and neglect.”

 

 

 

 

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