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RAMAC legislative breakfast

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, right, speaks at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce on Monday, Dec. 3 at Meadowbrook Country Cub. The event brought together area representatives such as state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, left, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine and state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.

RACINE — While large companies are considering raising wages to attract workers, those who take care of our senior loved ones are likely stuck earning below $10 per hour. But that might change.

In their upcoming legislative session, set to begin in January, legislators will be looking into increasing compensation for those who work with and take care of senior citizens.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said that in the 2017-19 biennial budget, the Legislature increased wages, through reimbursements, for those workers by 50 cents, to $9 per hour, “the largest increase in almost a decade.”

Vos shared that information on Monday at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce. The breakfast, held at the Meadowbrook Country Club, also was attended by state Sen. Van Waggaard, R-Racine; state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine; and state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

Vos said he had already spoken with Gov. Scott Walker about making reimbursement for senior care a priority in state’s 2019-21 budget. But in light of Walker’s defeat in the Nov. 6 election, Vos said he plans to talk with incoming Democrat Gov. Tony Evers so the reimbursement rate can remain a priority in the next budget.

“We have got to increase the reimbursement rate for personal-care workers,” Vos said. “I am hopeful he (Evers) will look at this and say ‘We have to do something.’”

The 50-cent wage increase, Vos said, cost about $70 million; to go up to $11 or $12 per hour will require some creative thinking to move forward, but he is hopeful to include another raise in the budget.

“My fear is if (the increase in wages is) built on raising taxes, that will be a non-starter,” Vos said. “I want to work to make sure we reprioritize money away from programs that we think are not as important, and there are plenty of those.”

Rita Hagen, the executive director of Hospice Alliance, in the audience at the breakfast, said this is a topic she is watching closely. With Froedtert Hospital and Advocate Aurora establishing hospitals in Mount Pleasant and Ascension expanding along Highway 20, there is going to be increased competition for certified nursing assistants and other health-care workers. If state reimbursement rates are not increased, it will be even harder.

Task force advocated

Barca called the raise in the 2017-19 budget “one of the few bright spots in that budget.”

At the Monday breakfast meeting, Barca proposed to have a legislative council study on this topic “not just on pay increases but other things that can be done.”

Barca gave credit to Vos’ Speaker Task Forces, which have looked at issues like foster care, as a way to make a positive impact on this issue.

“I think we should put together a task force on this specific item, because I think we could come up with some creative ideas, a whole range of ideas,” Barca said.

Wanggaard agreed that a task force on senior care would be a good idea and said he would be willing to be part of that group.

“You can make $15 per hour at Amazon and not be emptying bedpans and doing all other things we ask people to do to care for our parents, our friends, our elderly,” Wanggaard said. “This is something we need to look at.”

Neubauer said senior care is a “critical issue” that she looks forward to working on in the next session.

“This is an incredibly personal issue to all of us,” Neubauer said, “And I think it’s really good that we’re increasing reimbursement rates and it’s definitely something we need to look into next session.”

“We have got to increase the reimbursement rate for personal-care workers. I am hopeful he (Gov.-elect Tony Evers) will look at this and say ‘We have to do something.’” Robin Vos, state Assembly speaker

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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