By Gina Macris
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed pay raise for workers providing direct care to adults with developmental disabilities will get a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Raimondo has set aside $6 million for 5 percent wage increases for these workers, who are now paid an average of $11.18 an hour. Her proposal would increase their hourly pay by about 56 cents, to an average of $11.74.
The governor's budget says that poverty-level wages for these workers have resulted in a “hiring crisis” that “impedes the ability of community agencies to implement the state’s obligations” under provisions of a federal consent decree mandating reforms in the developmental disability service system to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Low wages have led to annual turnover estimated at 33 percent, with agencies experiencing staff vacancy rates of up to 25 percent, leading to high overtime costs and worker burnout, according to the budget document. The shortage of workers in Rhode Island is all the more challenging because neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut pay about $1 to 2 dollars an hour more for the same work..
Moreover, Massachusetts has committed to a $15 hourly rate by 2018 for direct care workers in field of developmental disabilities. There is a similar drive in Rhode Island to raise workers’ pay to $15 in five years, but the budget provision to be heard Wednesday deals only with the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The hearing is scheduled after the full House ends it session, he end of the House session, about 4:30 to 4:45 p.m. and it will be held in Room 35 in the basement of the State House.
Kevin Nerney, spokesman for the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, urges individuals concerned about the stability of the developmental disability service system to attend the hearing or write or call members of the legislature. Click here for the meeting agenda, which includes a link to the full text of the proposal to increase wages, as well as another budget article to be heard the same day in connection with the duties of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals in treating substance abuse.
Written testimony also may be submitted to the House Finance Committee through its clerk, Christopher O’Brien, at firstname.lastname@example.org.