Opinion: Wolf, lawmakers must increase wages for those caring for people with disabilities

Everyone grapples with something during this pandemic, but thousands of parents caring for children with physical or intellectual disabilities are facing a catastrophic crisis. They cannot get help caring for their families when they need it most.

Thousands of families cannot find people willing to accept the meager wages the state pays workers who come to the shelters to help people with disabilities. If you think Walmart, Amazon, or McDonalds can’t find workers, the situation is doubly dire for families who depend on “direct support professionals,” or DSPs, to help them care for their children.

Gary Blumenthal, vice president of government relations and advocacy for InVision Human Services, said up to 80% of DSPs left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, unwilling to face the risks of catching the disease. virus for $ 14 an hour.

Most DSPs are employed by nonprofit organizations and are paid for under the state’s Medicaid program, which comes with federal dollars. But DSPs that nonprofits employ are paid less than those that provide similar services to people in public facilities. Nowadays, they can make more burgers or sell cosmetics in a department store.

The job of a DSP is physically and mentally tough. They often feed, bathe and care for children and adults who cannot care for themselves. It’s hard work, and it takes dedicated, caring and compassionate people.

Families of people with disabilities are begging Governor Tom Wolf and the Legislature for help. They ask them to work together to increase the salaries of DSPs. We are too.

Nancy Murray, a mother of three mentally disabled adult children, recently wrote an op-ed for PennLive asking Governor Wolf to pay DSPs the same salary he pays state employees. Sounds reasonable. It sounds rational. It seems obligatory at times like these.

Murray is also President of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and Senior Vice President of Achieva, an organization serving people with disabilities. She and other disability advocates say the developmental disability system needs $ 541 million to stop its collapse. But they’re worried that Wolf’s proposed budget will offer $ 141 less than what’s needed.

Murray and others argue that President Joe Biden targeted money in the American Recovery Act specifically to help these families. The governor and the legislature should allocate these funds where they are needed most and where the president intended them to be used.

Disability advocates say the whole system is on the verge of collapse, and they fear many people will suffer and some die unless Governor Wolf and the legislature act now to raise wages and help desperate families.

Consider this: Thousands of parents may have to stop working permanently and depend on state welfare if they can’t get help at home. Even those who can afford to raise DSP salaries are prohibited from doing so, as it would amount to Medicaid fraud in a way. Families find themselves without any option to protect those they love.

If we do not find a solution to this crisis, we will all suffer.

Public institutions will have to take care of thousands of children and adults currently cared for at home. Or thousands of people who could work will turn to social assistance to help them care for their families.

It makes good financial and moral sense to help these families by ensuring they get the help they need inside their homes as soon as possible.

Governor Wolf has proven throughout his tenure that he has a compassionate heart. He showed courage during the COVID-19 pandemic by braving political opposition to protect the people. Now he must show the same courage and the same compassion to help the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Governor Wolf can help families caring for people with disabilities by increasing DSP salaries in the 2022 state budget to the levels of workers employed in state institutions.

We urge Governor Wolf to at least meet with disability advocates and listen to their arguments. And we urge all benevolent lawmakers to do the same.

It is not politics. It’s real. Lives are at stake. Thousands of families will continue to suffer unless the governor and the state act, and act now.

– Harrisburg Patriot-News

About Antoine L. Cassell

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