Pay hike sought for caregivers

Organizers of a campaign to raise wages for direct-support workers brought their message to Springfield last week.

The Care Campaign seeks to provide better lives for caregivers and better care for individuals with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to organizers, about 23,000 individuals with developmental disabilities are supported in community settings in Illinois.

“Many of the direct-support employees who provide that support don’t earn enough to support their own families,” said Art Dykstra, CEO of Trinity Services in Joliet.

According to a recent Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities salary survey, the average direct-support wage in Illinois is $9.35 per hour – 21 percent below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty threshold of $11.32 for a family of four.

Care Campaign organizers said the Legislature hasn’t approved a cost-of-doing-business increase for community providers since 2007, and that Illinois ranks 41st of the 50 states in funding for these services.

In all, state funding for community developmental disability agencies has increased less than 1 percent per year over the past decade (9.5 percent over 10 years). By contrast, the Consumer Price Index increased 23 percent over the same period.

“This largely female workforce is often forced to work overtime or hold down second jobs just to make ends meet,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, in a press release. “It’s wrong that workers who carry out a responsibility of state government – caring for the most vulnerable among us – aren’t paid enough to support their own families.”

According to the Care Campaign, the lack of adequate wages for employees tho perform the work of supporting individuals with disabilities results in high employee turnover, which in turn negatively impacts the quality of services provided.

Workers, providers and families testified before Senate and House Human Services committee hearings on the DSP wage issue on Wednesday.

The Care Campaign proposes increases in reimbursement rates linked directly to increases in direct support staff wages. The goal of the initiative is to raise the starting wage to $13 an hour, with an initial increase of $1 per hour for all direct-support workers in fiscal year 2014.

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Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn says new legislation will help disabled Illinois residents find better jobs. The Employment First Act is headed to Quinn’s desk for signature after clearing the state Senate last week in a 54-0 vote. It requires state agencies helping the disabled find work to consider as a first option those positions that offer competitive pay. It also prioritizes jobs in integrated settings that include non-disabled workers.

Quinn proposed the measure in his State of the State address in February. His goal is to double the rate of employment for people with disabilities by 2015. On Wednesday he said in a written statement that “Illinois is a state where every person has the opportunity to chase their dreams.”

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