By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
This past month, the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland where Penn-Mar provides services released their annual budgets. The funding for increased wages for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) has once again done very little to address the challenges we face in recruiting and retaining great quality team members.
In Pennsylvania, there was no reference to DSPs, let alone any increase in our budget allowance. In a face-to-face conversation with Governor Wolf, he acknowledged our difficult situation, noting that all service providers were in the same boat. He then added that as bad as things are in our system “they are even worse in other systems and we need to address them too.”
There appears to be no appetite for tax reform in Pennsylvania yet the government is responsible for funding our system. How is it that our representatives feel like it’s OK for our team members to make less than a living wage? It’s a huge issue that needs to be addressed and rectified. And while progress was made two years ago, it appears we are stalled once again.
Our only recourse is to continue advocating and educating legislatures about the value of both our DSPs and the critical services that Penn-Mar provides to a vulnerable and growing population. DSPs are not glorified baby sitters nor should they be treated or compensated that way. They are professionals and should be valued as professionals.
We will move forward to keep the pressure on this issue by aligning ourselves with the PAR (Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability) advocacy campaign and its workforce of over 50,000 Pennsylvanians supporting tens of thousands of individuals and their families.
In Maryland, Governor Hogan’s FY2020 budget includes a 3.5% increase in rates for providers. This was better than we anticipated and we are very grateful.
Unfortunately, there is another looming issue which could be disastrous for organizations like Penn-Mar. The legislature seems to be aggressively moving toward a minimum wage increase with a goal of $15 an hour by 2022.
The first change in minimum wage is proposed for July 1, 2019. If that 7% increase to the existing minimum wage kicks in without additional consideration from the legislature and the Governor, we will actually be losing ground between what we can pay our team members compared to the minimum wage.
If additional action is not taken, our reimbursement rates will be at a 20-year low compared to the minimum wage. If the minimum wage bill does pass, we will be advocating with our partner MACS (Maryland Association of Community Services) for a wage protection totaling 7% to be passed along to service providers.
In both states and across the nation, DSP’s deserve to earn a working wage and it is not acceptable for our team members to be eligible for assistance and food stamps because their career wages don’t allow them to afford basic necessities. We have to speak up and say, “This is not the way it should be!”
Funding for programs like Penn-Mar is a core function of state government and should be properly valued. We have no illusions; the DSP compensation issue will be an ongoing struggle if we continue to accept a broken system where we are always applying band aids instead of coming up with fair and realistic long-term solutions.
This is a social justice issue that requires us to continue to build private partnerships in order to do what we can on our end to retain and attract a quality workforce. There is no way Artificial Intelligence (AI) or automation can replace what is most important: relationships. And we are in a relationship business.