Guest Columnist: Kathy Rogers, The Importance of Advocacy - Penn-Mar

Guest Columnist: Kathy Rogers, The Importance of Advocacy

Posted on February 25, 2019

By Kathy Rogers, Chief Advancement Officer, Penn-Mar Human Services | Executive Director, Penn-Mar Foundation

Kathy RogersEmpowering people to be their own voice is a mantra at Penn-Mar.  We talk about this in terms of the individuals we support and our person-centered culture.  On February 13th, nearly 40 Penn-Mar self-advocates, family advocates and our Direct Support Professionals (DSP) spent the day in Annapolis meeting with legislators using their voices to educate and advocate.   On this day and during this legislative session, it is important that all of us are empowered to be our own voice as well, singing in unison with our self-advocates, families and DSPs.

There are a lot of challenges for providers this year, including a lot of newly elected officials that aren’t familiar with the unique issues we face in running our day-to-day operations.  For example, if the Maryland General Assembly votes in the $15/hour wage increase, we are precluded by federal law from passing along any cost increase to the people we support, yet we have a statutory obligation to protect the health and safety of people with disabilities.  That is not a widely-known fact among those who are new to the policy world.

If we can’t pass on that cost, and there is no additional funding to provide for wages that are substantially above minimum wage, we find our ourselves in an even tighter competition with the Walmart’s and McDonalds.   And let’s face it, DSP jobs are NOT minimum wage jobs!  We are not against raising the minimum wage, we are only asking that the funding must be there for us to keep DSP wages well above the minimum.

Our advocates are working hard this year to make sure that the funding is there to keep DSP wages above the minimum wage.  Let me say this again, DSP jobs are not minimum wage jobs!   The jobs are complex and those of us who work with DSPs or have DSPs supporting our loved one know this.  Our job is to educate the rest of the world, particularly those holding the purse strings, that these jobs are complex.   DSPs must support people with disabilities to lead a self-determined life.  They must be knowledgeable about a range of effective communication strategies and understand formal and informal assessment practices to respond to the needs, desires and interests of the person they support.  DSPs mobilize resources necessary to assist an individual with their career and educational goals.  This is only a partial list of what is expected of a DSP.  I think you’ll agree that this is not minimum wage work.

All of us need to use our voices to educate and advocate this year more than ever. If you live in Maryland, I’m asking you to do something important. Take a moment to call and email your elected officials. Tell them DSP jobs are not minimum wage jobs.

Tell them that the Economic Matters Committee’s amendment of HB166 cuts funding for DD Community Providers so severely that it will decimate the DD Community System, and harm tens of thousands of people with disabilities, their families, and the workers who support them.

Ask them to instead “fence off” an additional $22.5MM in general funds in the FY20 budget to fully fund the 7% rate increase that is included in the “Fight for 15” bill. Our DSPs and the lives of those they support are depending on that.

(To locate your elected officials, please visit

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