Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz walked in a home health care worker’s shoes on Friday in St. Paul.

The governor helped 41-year-old Jay Spika, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, bathe, dress and depart his St. Paul home. Walz worked alongside one of Spika’s home health aide, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota member Deb Howze.

The “walk-a-day” event offered Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who participated in a similar event in Minneapolis, a unique perspective on the state’s home health industry.

Federal and state subsidies allow thousands of Minnesota seniors and people with disabilities to stay in their homes, saving taxpayers the cost of providing institutional care.

But workers and clients warn of a worsening labor shortage in their field, caused by low wages and lack of benefits. As the state’s population ages, they fear the crisis will only worsen.

As they worked together to get Spika’s socks and shoes on, Howze told Walz it’s difficult to retain good workers in such a demanding job at $13.25 per hour, the minimum wage in SEIU’s most recent union contract with the state.

“This job is exhausting,” she said. “We have so much turnover. I feel the pay is not enough. You should be able to get a PCA job and be able to live on it without working two extra jobs.”

Earlier this year, Walz and other lawmakers approved the $13.25 minimum wage as part of a two-year union contract covering 25,000 home care workers statewide.

The 10.4% increase was “a starting point,” the governor acknowledged, to addressing the industry’s labor shortage. Walz noted the state has a backlog of thousands of qualified individuals and families who want a home care attendant but can’t get one.

“That means spouses leaving their work, giving up their careers to make sure the care is there,” he said.

Later in the event, Walz turned to Spika and asked what elected officials can do better from his standpoint.

“I think we need to invest in the PCA program,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if you’re going to need these services; it’s a matter of when… And you need a professional.”

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