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Nursing home workers condemn Baker budget cuts

Governor Charlie BakerMICHAEL DWYER/AP

The union representing thousands of Massachusetts nursing home workers Wednesday condemned the decision by Governor Charlie Baker to slash millions of dollars from the new state budget dedicated to boosting salaries and benefits for low-paid workers.

In a letter to state lawmakers this week, the leader of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East urged legislators to override Baker’s veto and restore the full $35.5 million approved by the Legislature.

Baker chopped half of that money in the budget he signed last week.

Just days before the budget was to go into effect, the Baker administration acknowledged the state is grappling with a significant tax revenue shortfall, prompting cutbacks.

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But SEIU executive vice president Tyrék Lee noted in his letter to lawmakers that money for the workers’ pay raise was not dependent on state revenue and was instead to be raised through a “user fee” on nursing homes.

The state in effect taxes nursing homes through the user fee. Some of those fees are passed on to patients who pay for nursing homes out of their own pockets. The arcane process leverages more cash from the federal government that would be used for the worker raises.

“Workers deserve quality jobs and quality wages, and this critical funding is essential to ensuring quality long-term care for Massachusetts seniors, people with disabilities, and their families,” Lee said in a statement Wednesday. “Many of these workers are struggling to survive on little more than minimum wage and this funding provides a much-needed boost.”

Baker signaled in the past he was reluctant to further raise user fees. A spokesman said Wednesday evening the governor “was pleased to sign a fiscally responsible budget . . . without raising taxes.”

SEIU joined with the nursing home trade group, Massachusetts Senior Care Association, earlier this year in an unusual alliance to lobby lawmakers for the money, after assurances that most of the cash would go to workers.

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Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.