Passage of Minimum Wage Bill Must Not Leave Providers Serving People With Disabilities Behind

February 14, 2019

As the Illinois General Assembly passed SB1, a bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next six years, advocates urged policy leaders to address the impact of this important change on people with disabilities and the organizations that serve and support them, citing a staffing crisis that is currently plaguing the state.

They Deserve More, a coalition of advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has recently filed two bills in the Illinois General Assembly – HB 2148 and SB 1148 – that would help people with disabilities get the support and care they need by securing a living wage for direct support professionals (DSPs). Championed by State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Robyn Gabel, the bills would increase state funding so that DSPs and other crucial frontline staff earn wages at least $5 or more above the minimum wage.  

“The They Deserve More Coalition has a proven record of supporting a living wage for DSPs and frontline staff,” said Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of Ray Graham Association, which serves adults and children with disabilities. “In order for us to do so, our state has an obligation, an imperative, to take care of its most vulnerable citizens. If we don’t pay caregivers – people with other people’s lives in their hands – more than minimum wage, we’re turning our backs on thousands of people with disabilities and their family members who rely on this life-sustaining care.”

Illinois’ reimbursement for community-based intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) services ranks 47th lowest in the country. The most significant expense with community services is payment for care provided by DSPs. People with disabilities depend on DSPs for everything from eating, bathing and administering medication to job and life-skills training and community involvement. Illinois has failed to provide adequate reimbursement for I/DD community services, so there is already “… a deplorable level of turnover that doesn’t need to exist,” said Zoeller. “People want to do this work – they are extremely dedicated – but they leave when they can make better wages for easier work like warehouses and retail.”

DSPs were never intended to be minimum wage positions, given the tremendous responsibility, capability and disposition the work demands. According to They Deserve More, DSPs deserve wages that reflect their professional position, dedication and the hard work that comes with being responsible for another person’s well-being and quality of life.

Rates paid to DSPs must surpass minimum wage by at least $5 or more to remain competitive with industries that are often paying well above the minimum, if the state is serious about meeting its obligation to care for people with disabilities.

“The reason I have worked as a DSP for 17 years is simple: I care deeply for the people I serve, and I don’t know how they would manage if I left,” said Kari Rietveld, a DSP with Cornerstone Services. “But I really struggle to make ends meet for my family working nights as a DSP, days in another fulltime job plus some weekends taking odd jobs. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

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