Advocates seek minimum wage increase

Big Tent Coalition also touts community services for elderly, disabled

? Increasing the state’s minimum wage, which is the lowest in the nation, and championing home- and community-based services for the elderly and disabled were among the top priorities announced Thursday by social service advocates.

“There are many people still waiting for services,” said Kathy Lobb, with the Lawrence-based Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas. “We hope the governor and legislators will again increase funding to make services available to everyone who needs them.”

Lobb’s group is part of the Big Tent Coalition, which includes dozens of organizations, and started in 2002 when Kansans with disabilities and advocates put up tents on the Capitol grounds to protest proposed cuts.

For the legislative session that starts Jan. 8, the Big Tent Coalition said it would continue fighting to ensure that people who want to leave nursing homes can get services in the community.

“This is about choice, freedom and independence,” said coalition spokeswoman Shannon Jones.

The coalition also will fight for an increase in the state minimum wage of $2.65 per hour, which is the lowest of the 43 states that have a state minimum wage.

Andy Sanchez, executive secretary of the Kansas AFL-CIO, said the state should raise its minimum wage to the same as the federal level, $5.15 per hour.

“Raising the minimum wage rate is about treating workers with dignity and respect so that they can hold their heads up high,” Sanchez said.

The state minimum wage applies to some 24,000 employees not covered by the regulations of the federal minimum wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Officials say many of these employees work for “mom-and-pop” restaurants.

Efforts to increase the state minimum wage in the past in the Kansas Legislature have been defeated by business interests.

The Big Tent Coalition also called for:

¢ Requiring private insurers to provide equal coverage of both mental and physical illnesses.

¢ Examination of the adequacy of mental health services statewide.

¢ Exemption from the death penalty of offenders with significant cognitive disabilities.

¢ Restricting the use of seclusion and restraint used on special education students.

¢ Increased funding to take care of 1,200 Kansans with developmental disabilities who are on waiting lists to get home- and community-based services.