Minimum Wage, Medicaid and Vulnerable Vermonters
Over the last two weeks, I have spent a lot of time in the State House talking about S.23, the minimum wage bill. At every opportunity, I have asked legislators to protect vulnerable Vermonters by ensuring that if they pass the bill, they also fund the Medicaid programs that will be impacted by the bill.
At the greatest risk is Vermont’s long-term care system – home health agencies, adult day facilities and nursing homes and others – who serve frail, elderly Vermonters who can no longer care for themselves without help.
In recent testimony, a coalition of providers put forward a proposal to obligate legislators to fund the approximately 7 percent annual minimum wage growth rates called for in the bill. The VNAs of Vermont provided a draft proposal to the committee and we’ve spent the last week working with legislators and their staff to further develop the language. We are urging members of the House General Committee to include the amendment in their version of the bill for consideration by House Appropriations.
Meanwhile, the Joint Fiscal Office is trying to quantify the cost of the increase, using department of labor statistics on wages in various health care occupations. It underestimates the true cost, because it assumes that only those workers earning below the minimum wage will receive increases. Such a policy would effectively bring the starting salary for new employees up to the level of more seasoned employees, ignoring the challenges of employee retention in a very tight labor market. The amendment we’ve been working would align the “rate of growth” of the minimum wage and the Medicaid budget, which will allow for increases for entire categories of employees. It would also provide for funding in the state fiscal year 2020 budget currently under review in the Senate.