For those of you who have been regular readers of this column, you know that the impact of the minimum wage increase on Community Options has been a recurring theme. As a refresher, Amendment 70 was passed by the voters in November 2016, and will have raised the state’s minimum wage from $8.31/hour to $12/hour by January 2020. As much as I support increasing the pay for our Direct Support Professionals, the problem is that no corresponding revenue increases were included, and our payroll will have increased by nearly $700,000/year by 2020. As reported in my June 2018 column, we finally got some help via a 6.5 percent Medicaid rate increase on some of our services. Those rates only took effect in March 2019, and we anticipate that a full year of those rates will cover about half of our annual payroll increase. As if Amendment 70 hasn’t created enough problems, the recently-completed legislative session offered up two more well-intentioned, but potentially problematic statutory candidates in the minimum wage mayhem derby.
The first is Senate Bill (SB) 19-238, which was targeted at home health care agencies, and will increase their minimum wage to $12.41/hour in 2020. Because our agency provides personal care services through our Supported Living Services (SLS) program that are considered home health care, we got pulled into this bill. The good news is that this bill includes an 8.1 percent rate increase on those services to help cover the cost. The bad news is that our agency provides lots of “personal care” to people who reside in our group homes or attend our day programs, and those services are not considered home health care. The end result is that we would be paying our SLS staff $12.41, while our group home and day program staff providing exactly the same service would make $12/hour. Additionally, when our SLS employees provide services other than those covered under SB 19-238, those hours would be paid at the lower rate.4
The second is House Bill 19-1210, which removed the restriction for cities and counties to establish local minimum wages higher than the state’s. The premise is that the cost of living in some parts of the state is considerably higher than other areas, and this gives local jurisdictions the ability to recognize and adjust for that fact. The difficulty for an agency like ours is that we could have a different pay rate for each employee (we have over 200) depending on where in our six counties and umpteen cities and towns they provided services. The complexity of that is staggering.
In legislating and policy making, you often hear the term “unintended consequences.” Here are exhibits A, B, and C.
Tom Turner is the executive director of Community Options in Montrose.