Disabled Tucsonans may lose caretakers when minimum wage hike kicks in

December 14, 2016
Alexa Liacko

The minimum wage in Arizona is going up at the beginning of the year, but organizations across Tucson are fighting against the clock for extra funding to keep their employees and programs running.

Services for the disabled aren't the only state provided service at risk, but health care workers employed by the Easter Seals Blake Foundation are already being warned that their hours may be cut next year to make sure everyone is paid the new minimum wage.

This organization alone says more than 200 of its employees will be hurt by cuts because the federal and state funding has not been increased to reflect the minimum wage increase.

Programs that provide hourly services to families with disabled children and adults will get the first cuts, but more cuts may be on the way:

"Services for individuals with developmental disabilities, group home services will suffer the most because that's that individual's home. That's where they live," said Gina Judy of the Easter Blake Seals Foundation. "Some of them have lived there for many many years, so those are the ones I'm most concerned about because there's no easy way to replace that service."

The Easter Seals Blake Foundation says they need an estimated $500,000 to pay these employees, and they simply don't have it. The foundation does support the minimum wage increase, but if it can't get emergency funding, come January first, thousands of disabled people and children across our state may not be able to get the care they need.

Teresa Kellerman has two adult children with developmental disabilities who need 24-hour supervision. She says it's already hard to find good caretakers to stay long term, but with cuts to programs and hours to make sure all workers are paid the new minimum wage, she says she's scared she won't be able to get care for her kids:

"It's scary...It's disturbing. I wonder what will happen. I wonder how many agencies will have to fold," Kellerman said.

Now, the incoming speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives may file a lawsuit to block the minimum wage increase, and the Governor's office and Arizona State Chamber of Commerce are working on a plan to move forward.

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