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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Direct-Care Workers Could Get A Pay Bump Under Health Department Proposal

Caregiver. File photo.
Caregiver. File photo.

The Montana health department is proposing a $1-per-hour wage increase for direct-care workers for disability services. It’s part of Governor Steve Bullock’s plan to restore budget cuts enacted over the last two years. But not all the money that was cut is getting put back.

Leaders of organizations that provide Medicaid disability services told the Department of Public Health and Human Services Thursday that they’re thankful for the wage increase. However, they’re disappointed that the pay bump isn’t as big as what state lawmakers approved in the 2017 legislative session. 

Under the proposal from DPHHS, direct-care workers will receive 50-cents-an-hour less than what the state Legislature called for in the bill passed with wide bipartisan support.

These workers help people with disabilities get dressed, bathe, cook meals, and run errands — working as personal caregivers.

Beth Brenneman, with Disability Rights Montana, says the wage increase for people who provided developmental disability services was originally set at a higher rate to try and help lift those workers out of poverty.

“The current rate of pay forced some people into requiring the use of public benefits, food stamps, ect., etc.” 

The current low rate of pay is also a barrier to attracting and keeping employees. Dave Eaton, the president of the Montana Association of Disability Services, says the pay increase offered by DPHHS is welcome, but unlikely to create significant change.

“A $1-per-hour increase is not adequate to recruit and retain employees,” Eaton says.

Public comment on the health department-outlined wage increase for direct-care workers ends November 16.

Lawmakers have already made plans to take up the issue of wage increases for these workers when they reconvene in January for the 2019 session. A draft of that plan calls for a $3-per-hour wage increase for direct-care workers over two years.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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