RI Governor Raimondo Asks for Wage Hikes for Direct Care Workers in FY 2018 Budget

By Gina Macris

Governor Gina Raimondo is asking the General Assembly to approve a total of $11 million for raises for front-line human services workers who provide homecare or who work directly with adults with developmental disabilities.

The proposal was one of the highlights of a budget plan that includes nearly $1.4 billion in human services funding in an overall fiscal package totaling about $9.3 billion for the2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget was delivered to the General Assembly Thursday, Jan. 19.

“For home and community-based placements to be successful, the state must have a robust provider network and support system, “ Raimondo said in a statement. ” To build this capacity, workers with the right skills must be paid enough to fill those jobs,” she said.

Jonathan Womer, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at a budget briefing that keeping direct care workers on the job has been “really difficult.”  Workers in equivalent jobs in Massachusetts make about $13.00 an hour.

The added money for wages includes a 5 percent hike for workers who provide direct services to adults with developmental disabilities, or 56 cents an hour, bringing their average hourly pay to $11.74. Homecare workers would see a 7 percent, or 78-cents-an-hour increase, for a new average hourly rate of $11.96

Raimondo also has proposed raising the minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.50 an hour, an increase of 90 cents.

Since July 1, developmental disability and home care workers have been paid an average of $11.18 an hour, according to figures released by State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. In October, DiPalma asked the Governor to include additional raises in her next budget as part of a five-year plan to raise the pay of front-line workers to $15.

Last May, Raimondo proposed pay hikes in apparent response to pressure from the U.S. District Court, which is monitoring implementation of a 2014 consent decree designed to desegregate day services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. earlier had ruled that the state did not spend enough money to provide the community-based services required by the consent decree and risked being held in contempt of court if it did not sufficiently fund supported employment programs.

The consent decree runs out in 2024, and McConnell is still holding periodic reviews of the case. The next hearing is Friday, Jan. 27.

To encourage supported employment, the General Assembly added $6.8 million in the current budget for job coaching and related activities, but that performance-based incentive program is just getting off the ground, five months after a court-ordered deadline.

Budget briefing materials released Thursday were silent on whether the program will continue, and state officials were not immediately able to respond to detailed questions.

Service providers have said the incentive program, set up to provide one-time bonuses for staff training, new job placements, and job retention, is a distraction from the fundamental problem that agencies continue to be chronically underfunded.

Raimondo asked the General Assembly for an additional $4.9 million for caseload growth in fiscal 2018. The General Assembly spurned a similar request last year, with the House leadership saying the numbers showed a stable caseload, at about  4,000 clients. 

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said that if and when the caseload increases, the General Assembly will listen.

In the last few months, the independent court monitor in the consent decree case has required the state to identify all young people over the age of 14 who likely will be eligible for adult developmental disability services in the next seven years, but the state has not yet released firm numbers.

In all, Raimondo would add nearly $4.4 million to the bottom line to cover developmental disability spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year and $6 million more in the next budget.

Those increases in developmental disabilities apparently would by offset by cost-shifting to The Department of Human Services, as well as cuts in funding authorizations to individuals who receive developmental disability services.

Raimondo’s budget message suggested that developmental disability officials plan to save about $850,000 in state revenue during the remainder of the current fiscal year and an equal amount in the next one by cutting individual funding authorizations to adults with developmental disabilities to “appropriate resource allocation tiers.”  

In the past few years, such attempted cuts have been routinely contested  -- often successfully -- by service providers and families in time-consuming appeals involving a controversial individual assessment called the Supports Intensity Scale.

All developmental disability services are funded by a combination of federal Medicaid and state revenue at a rate of roughly 1 to 1, and the governor’s request for increases come in spite of increased pressure on overall Medicaid costs.

The current authorized spending level for all developmental disability services is $246,242,419. Raimondo’s supplemental budget would raise that total to $250,626,970 by June 30. The spending limit for Fiscal 2018 would increase yet again to $256,707,760, according to her plan.

Developmental disability services make up more than 60 percent of the total BHDDH budget, which is currently $385,632,555. Raimondo would like an additional $15,457,021 for a total of $401,089,575 to close out the current fiscal year. The bottom line for the next fiscal year would be $394,366,931.