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The rarest of news: A positive budget story for seniors and the disabled
Updated On: Jun 13, 2013

Any sort of good news regarding funding is few and far between at the capitol this session

Any sort of good news regarding funding is few and far between at the state capitol this session. However, a persistent fight for better funding for seniors and those needing disabled services statewide, spearheaded by AFSCME, has concluded with a big jump in state funds that should mean raises and better benefits for some Council 75 members.


Area Agencies on Aging, commonly known as "Triples As," are generally county-based consortiums that offer things such as Medicare and Medicaid protective services, eligibility screening, seniors meals programs and such. A prime example is NorthWest Seniors & Disability Services, which provides such care to the widespread citizens of Clatsop, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Yamhill counties. NWSDS employees are represented by Oregon AFSCME Local 3669.


Several years ago, the state provided funds equaling 95 percent of what the state could perform the services at, with the assumption that there was a 5 percent economy of scale by providing the services locally. Over the years, that percentage has dropped to a current level of 83 percent.


"At the 83 percent funding level, counties were threatening to simply give the programs back to the state, which they have the legal right to do," says veteran Oregon AFSCME Political Coordinator Ralph Groener, the person leading the fight for the union. "They couldn't make a go of it at that amount."


"We have employees who have had frozen steps, no COLAs and horrible insurance co-pays for years," adds Council 75 Syaff Representative Randy Ridderbusch, who services Local 3669. "It had to change."


And change it will. Groener, with help from a variety of unusual sources, including state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), arguably the Legislature's most conservative member, successfully put together a package that will increase state funding back to the 95 percent level.


"Even Rep. Richardson understood that having the state take back these programs would not only be detrimental to the service level, it would cost more money," said Groener.


The package includes an extra $300,000 to help the statewide Meals on Wheels program. Ridderbusch says another important component is the switch from a caseload model to a workload model.


"Previously, money was allocated by caseloads," said Ridderbusch. "But under that model, you're not counting the work involved with people ultimately deemed ineligible. For example, we have members who are Eligibility Specialists. They may work anywhere from four hours to four days determining if someone is eligible to receive benefits. If ultimately deemed ineligible, under the caseload model all that work counted for nothing as far as reimbursement. The workload model is much more fair."


Ridderbusch and Groener estimate the new package will translate to about 175 more people hired statewide; some of those will fall into AFSCME-represented units. Ridderbusch is also looking forward to what he termed should be "the first decent bargaining we've had for these people in a long, long time." A budget note attached to the package specifies a certain percentage go directly to employee compensation, giving managers less wiggle room to "play" with the money.


"This has been Ralph's fight for several sessions," added Ridderbusch. "We've had lots of staff and member support, but Ralph deserves the primary credit for seeing this through."


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