By Kathleen McNally Durkin, Deputy Executive Director
The issue for DD provider agencies like The Arc Baltimore is complex. Currently, our staff makes more than minimum wage. Our State funding, however, is stretched severely and has increased little in recent years to cover not only wages, but increases in other agency expenses including health insurance, worker compensations insurance, vehicles, home rent, food, gasoline, etc. Agencies such as ours rely on the State to provide funding to pay employee wages. The State determines a rate which currently affords most service providers the ability to pay an average of less than $10.00 per hour. This rate must not only pay for wages for entry level positions, but also wages for long-term employees and overtime. If minimum wage is increased but the DDA funding is not proportionally increased, these vital direct support professionals will become minimum wage jobs. We can’t let that happen.
And so, the snow…We are in the midst of a major snowfall event (major for MD at least). I often think about the direct support professionals who work at The Arc Baltimore, and I am humbled by their dedication and hard work. Imagine supporting three women who live in a home in Towson. You work from 3 pm – 11 pm and then sleep in their home in case they need assistance at night. You wake up at 6 am and help the ladies get off to work by 8am. On a snowy day like those we encountered this week, the day centers are closed and the ladies will be home. You juggle what would have been your time off, in order to stay and support them. All three have “no unsupervised time” which is DDA speak for, you can’t leave them alone and run out to the store! The walk needs to be shoveled and the car cleared off. Groceries are limited, and you wonder, ‘does Sue have enough of her seizure meds to last the week in case you can’t get to the pharmacy?’ It’s just you. Your supervisor will call to check in, but no one else is scheduled to work. Your job is an independent one. You must make decisions quite often on the spot that are significant to the health, safety and quality of life of these women. Your family is home left to handle the storm themselves. You have dedicated your career to adults with disabilities and this is a part of what is expected.
Should these jobs be minimum wage jobs? No! We need to push the state to increase the DDA funding proportionally so that when the minimum wage goes up, so does the funding to developmental disabilities agencies to at least keep the differential that currently exists. Our staff deserves more.
Update:On 2/11, Kathleen Durkin testified in front of the House Economic Affairs Committee on the minimum wage issue. Also testifying was Lawrence Jenkins, a direct support staff person from The Arc, who talked about the challenges and demands of his position, the skill requirements and the training required. With him was Tom Franz, one of the three men from the home who he supports in our Community Living program. Both gentlemen served as a meaningful example of the valuable work of direct support staff and why the minimum wage increase must be tied to the rate increase. Then, the three testified again before the Senate Finance Committee.