RI House Finance Committee Approves Wage Increases For Workers in DD Budget For FY 20

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island House Finance Committee has approved Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed pay raises for workers who care for adults with developmental disabilities, far below what advocates say is needed.

Money for the wage increases, a total of $6.4 million in federal and state Medicaid funding, is part of an overall $293.7 million spending authorization for developmental disabilities in the next budget cycle.

The Finance Committee approval of the raises is welcome news, said State Sen. Louis DiPalma, the General Assembly’s most visible proponent of better pay for direct care workers. But he said much work is needed for direct care workers to gain pay parity with their counterparts in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Total spending for developmental disabilities includes almost $131.4 million in the state’s share of Medicaid-funded services for adults with developmental disabilities, with a federal match of about $147 million for existing programs. An additional $13 million federal investment is budgeted for a Health Home, a proposed third-party entity that would provide case management services now done by state workers.

The $293.7 million allocation also includes about $1.8 million in non-Medicaid funding.

The wage increase would add an average of 34 to 44 cents an hour to the pay of direct care workers. Private providers and state government differ on their estimates of how far the money will go.

Entry-level direct care workers make an average of $11.44 an hour, according to a trade association of service providers, while more experienced colleagues are paid an average of $12.50 an hour. Those rates are significantly lower than their counterparts earn in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to testimony submitted to the House Finance Committee earlier this year.

Advocates had asked the General Assembly to invest an additional $28.5 million in state revenue to boost wages and stabilize the workforce in developmental disabilities, which is plagued by high turnover and a high job vacancy rate.

Convening late the evening of June 13, the Finance Committee made recommendations both on revised spending for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and the budget for the new cycle beginning July 1. The totality of spending in the new state budget would be about $9.8 billion.

The full House is scheduled to take up the Finance Committee recommendations June 21.