Not all was said, but all is important, and we want to share this with everyone. Watch here, read full notes below:


Good Afternoon Mr. Chair and Committee Members:

For the record, my name is Tom Gillespie and I am the president and CEO of Living Well Disability services, a nonprofit provider of residential services for people impacted by disabilities. I appreciate this opportunity to come back to this group and talk about another piece of important legislation supporting people with disabilities and their staff.  Before getting into the details of this bill, I want to address the number of bills and efforts we are carrying this session.  I want to ensure you know that the individuals, families, providers and associations that are coming to discuss our significant needs, are not doing so in hopes that one or two might pass, we doing all of this in desperate need of all of them passing.  Last years failure to take action has had devastating impacts on our industry and more importantly on the lives of those we serve.

At the heart of the issue, as I have told this group already, is that no one can afford to be a caregiver any more.  A $16 dollar starting wage, and a legislated daily rate that does not even support that, is not enough to live on and in many counties in MN fails meet the state’s own definition of a livable wage.  Depending on family size and location, this wage is so low that it qualifies for SNAP food assistance. The result is the essential workers that this group and the governor recognized as heroes during the pandemic for the living giving supports, they provided, now go home and require supports themselves.  To be frank, I can’t sleep at night knowing the difficulties we face, but much worse is the fact that our staff can’t sleep at night because they must work 3 jobs to get by.  You simply must do better. NOW!

Minnesota’s failure to maintain a fair wage for DSPs has had devastating impacts of the lives of those we serve because as people leave our field they take with them their incredible talents, knowledge and most importantly the loving relationships they had with the folks they serve.

As they leave, providers have two options: close homes,  take away choice and take away the life sustaining supports that our people have relied on for decades or, we can choose to lose money and desperately hope that someday we will have your support.   Living well has chosen the latter. And as a result, we have spent over 2 million dollars on unfunded overtime and paying temporary staffing services predatory rates of $40+ per hour.  On top of those costs we spend well over $200k per year on recruiting and trying to find people to do this work.  To be clear, it isn’t working we are over 100 employees short and see only a handful of new employees in our orientation classes.  But we hang on and squeeze our resources because those we serve deserve it and it is the right the to do.  Now we need you to do the right thing. 

Our proposal would bring additional support to the state’s providers in the form grant dollars to help us bolster our employment proposition. It would help us compete with the market to provide retention bonuses, it would allow us to better recognize and reward the good work our people do, and it would help us provide support for things like childcare, transportation, and schooling.  We aren’t talking extravagant benefits here, we are talking basic human needs, that’s not a high bar but sadly we are still left reaching.

It doesn’t have to be this way; it hasn’t always been this way. It used to be that DSP work was a better alternative to other entry level jobs.  It used to be, and for me it was, a job that made sense and could become a career.  It is the choices of this group and others like it that have brought us here, and it is only the choices of those same groups that can get us out.

I have extended offers to each of you to visit our group homes, meet the people we serve and the wonderful staff who support them.  I hope you will take me up on that offer before the end of session to inform yourself and understand why we are so desperately in need of your support. If we fail to gain your support again this year, I will expect that you come out to the homes that are somehow still open to explain to our people why their needs were not recognized.

 I want to finish by thanking each of you for the important work you are doing.  I do not envy you as you listen to compelling needs every day and are forced to make difficult decisions.  But this isn’t one of those tough choices.  Supporting the most basic needs of human beings is not a choice, its your responsibility.