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CCRI caregivers travel to Minnesota Capitol to fight for better wages

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MOORHEAD — Eighteen people with the nonprofit CCRI (Creative Care for Reaching Independence) are heading to the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul to plead for better pay for the caregivers of people with disabilities.

It's all smiles and laughter at lunch for Vicki Lenssen and Gloria in south Moorhead.

Lenssen has been a caregiver for CCRI since 2011 and has been with Gloria the entire time.

Monday's big errand?

"We're going to get her a perm," Lenssen said.

That's so Gloria can look her best when they join 16 other CCRI caregivers, clients and family members to head to a rally in St. Paul advocating to Minnesota lawmakers for higher pay for caregivers.

"It's time for the state to step up and make a difference for them," said Shannon Bock, CCRI executive director.

In Minnesota, a caregiver makes about $12.32 per hour, compared to North Dakota, where starting pay can be up to $16 an hour.

"It's really important that what we do as caregivers is really valued, CCRI caregiver Dan Hickel said. "And the legislators, I think, really need to understand that."

They're asking lawmakers to pass a bill that would increase pay by 4% this year and 4% next year, comparable to North Dakota's wages.

Like Lenssen, most caregivers say they couldn't imagine doing anything else.

"In life, you can sometimes find out what your calling in life is and I truly believe this is what I was meant to do," Hickel said.

They know the pay for some isn't livable.

"How can you support others if you can't support yourself?" asked CCRI caregiver Danielle Weller.

"There was one time for a period where I had to work four jobs," Hickel said.

For the clients, life without their caregivers would be impossible.

"They help me with everything I can't take care off. So I can live and still have a life," said CCRI client Mitchell Benson. "And to think that they do that, at a fraction of the level they deserve."

The group will leave for St. Paul around 5 a.m. Tuesday March 14.

They will also be at the hearing for SF 669 and HF 873, the two pieces of legislation that would provide consecutive 4 percent wage increases in 2017 and 2018, and call for the development of a long-term strategy to address health insurance coverage for direct care workers by 2019.

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