Minimum wage causes social service agency cutbacks

Minimum wage causes social service agency cutbacks

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When the state's voters passed Proposition 206 in 2016, it raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour starting in 2017 and ultimately rising to $12 by 2020.

Companies are also required to offer sick time to its workers under certain conditions.

There were winners and losers in the vote.

The winners are the workers who get a bump in pay and time off to go to the doctor, take care of a family member, or stay home because they are actually sick and still get paid for it.

The losers are harder to pinpoint because it is sometimes a matter of opinion rather than the conclusion of hard facts.

But one place that is not left open to question is the harm done to social service agencies that contract with the state.

Those social service agencies, which in many cases provide services to the developmentally disabled, were dealt a big blow. First of all, the increased labor costs have impacted the bottom line which in some cases leads to a cut in services. The result of a state which did not increase reimbursements to the level to cover those costs.

Jaclyn Larson is a 26-year-old single mother of 8-year-old developmentally disabled boy, Aiden.

He was injured in a car crash when he was a 2-year-old and suffered brain damage that has left him incapable of sight, speech, and mobility.

"It was like a severe case of "shaken baby", said Larson.

Aiden has 11 doctors and three physical therapists and is need of constant care.

"He has a lot of appointments," she said.

Larson is also a full time student who was recently accepted into the Honors Program at the University of Arizona.

She has some family help but most of the care and transportation falls on her shoulders, which is why she needs some respite care.

That's someone who can come into the home so she can take a nap or maybe go shopping without the child or maybe just take a long shower.

However, respite care for her is harder to find these days.

"I called five agencies and didn't get a call back," she said. "Lately, I've been having a hard time finding someone through an agency."

"We have a hard time hiring people now," said Gina Judy, the Chief Operations Officer for the Easter Seals Blake Foundation. "We always paid a little bit above minimum wage but we can't do that anymore."

With parity, Judy says, many workers will opt to work an easier job rather than as a care giver which takes a level of expertise and "is hard work."

Staffing has become an issue.

"So you're losing the ability to have someone come into your home perhaps to assist you with therapies of the critical care your son or daughter needs," she said. "Those are the kinds of services which are suffering the most."

While the Arizona State Legislature gave the agencies about $17 million in its 2018 budget, it's still far short of the $50 million needed.

Governor Doug Ducey is expected to announce in the next two weeks a bump for the second half of this calendar year, it's still expected to be woefully short.

Who's to blame is not uppermost on Larson's mind. She supported the minimum wage hike.

"I did kind of hope the minimum wage would go up because its hard to make a living," she said "And that's the job they have for a while, but I didn't imagine it would affect these kinds of services."

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