The protest began outside the governor’s Capitol office at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the protesters intended to stay until they had an opportunity to talk to Gov. Greg Abbott or were forcibly removed.
The governor’s office said he was unavailable for the former. And his staff, facing a group that included many in wheelchairs, had no inclination to order the latter.
As chants for Abbott to come out rose and echoed in the Capitol rotunda, it was not clear if and when state police on the scene would seek to end the occupation.
Roughly 30 advocates for those with disabilities were demanding that he press the budget conference committee to raise the pay of community-based home care attendants to $10 an hour.
Right now, the base wage for those attendants is $7.86 an hour, without any benefits, sick leave or vacation, which the advocates say makes it hard to find and retain people who can help the elderly and those with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. Attendants assist with the basic tasks of everyday life and enable their clients to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities.
The House budget would add $60 million to the state Health and Human Services Commission to increase that wage by 14 cents an hour. The Senate budget would add $38 million, increasing it by 11 cents an hour. The governor’s budget proposal asked for $105.3 million to “recruit and retain personal attendants,” increasing the base pay by 40 cents, but still well shy of the $10 that advocates said would make the work competitive with the fast-food industry.
Bob Kafka of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas, said it would cost $480 million over two years to raise the base wage to $10 an hour.
“It’s criminal that people essential to our survival can’t feed their kids,” said Jennifer McPhail, another ADAPT organizer, who has cerebral palsy.
Abbott, who is also in a wheelchair, was not in his office through the duration of the demonstration.
A little before 6 p.m., Dominos delivered 10 boxes of pizza and bottled water the protesters had ordered.
But state police would not allow food in the stately Governor’s Reception Room, where nine of the protesters were encamped. Out of solidarity, the larger contingent just outside the entrance to the Reception Room refused to eat without their comrades, so the pizza boxes stood stacked and unopened.
But Joe Tate, another organizer, took advantage of the pizza’s arrival to ask the deliveryman how much he earned.
“Sixteen dollars an hour,” he said, to huzzahs.