Idaho’s veterans’ homes are seeing turnover among nursing staff of nearly 50 percent, Rep. George Eskridge said this morning, largely because pay rates aren’t competitive with other nursing jobs. So when the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set the budget for the Veterans Services Division this morning, Eskridge, R-Dover, and Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, proposed an additional boost to the division’s salaries, following a performance-based, agency-wide plan that Eskridge said will focus on the lowest-paid workers. No state general tax funds are involved; the money is available from federal funds for veterans’ care.
The workers would still get the 2 percent average raises that lawmakers are accounting for in all state agency budgets, half of it one-time and half ongoing. “This is in addition to that,” Eskridge said. “The governor didn’t have it in there, so we put it in, and I think it was a good thing to do. We’ve got the funding available. I think it’s the right thing to do, given our turnover.” The boost comes to $356,900 next year, all from federal funds.
When the Legislature’s joint Change in Employee Compensation Committee convened in January for the first time since 2008, among the testimony it received from state workers were tearful statements from veterans’ home nursing assistants who said they were being forced to leave the job they loved – working with veterans – because of the low pay. JFAC voted unanimously in favor of the proposed budget for the agency today; the budget bill still needs approval from both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee.