By Gina Macris
Direct care workers employed by private agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island will have to wait until October to receive raises provided in the state budget that took effect last month.
But when the raises do show up in their paychecks, they’ll be for the full amount – 80 to 85 cents an hour, according to state officials.
A spokesman for Nicholas A. Mattiello, speaker of the House of Representatives, had suggested that raises proposed by Governor Gina Raimondo in her budget plan, and enacted by the legislature, might take effect July 1.
An additional pay boost added in the waning days of the General Assembly session would follow on Oct. 1, the speaker’s aide had said.
But state officials now say that both raises will take effect Oct. 1, allowing time for the state to work with the federal government to make technical changes required in the Medicaid program to incorporate the wage increases.
Direct care workers employed by developmental disability service organizations will receive an estimated 80 to 85-cent hourly pay raise effective Oct. 1, according to state officials.
The General Assembly set aside a total of $9.5 million in federal and state Medicaid funds - including $4.5 million from the state budget- for raises to direct care workers. That total consists of $6.2 million proposed by Governor Gina Raimondo in her original budget plan and an additional $3.3 million added by the House in the waning days of the 2019 session of the General Assembly.
At that time, Mattiello’s spokesman said that the pay increase proposed by the Governor would become effective July 1 and the amount added by the House would kick in Oct. 1.
But the final budget language does not specify an effective date.
In a recent public forum, Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said that because the pay raise involves federal Medicaid funds, the state must work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to make changes to the federally-authorized reimbursement rate the state pays to privately-run service providers for front-line staff.
Unlike previous pay increases enacted by the legislature, the $9.5 million investment in direct care wages will not extend to supervisors, job coaches and other specialists working with adults with developmental disabilities, state officials have said.
Raising the pay of direct care workers is considered a critical issue in employers’ ability to recruit and retain staff at a time when the state relies on some three dozen privately-run agencies to implement the requirements of a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree. Drawing its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the consent decree requires the state to change to an integrated, community-based model of daytime services by 2024, with an emphasis on employment.
According to a budget analysis by the House Fiscal Office, this year’s raises will boost the pay of direct care workers to about $13.00 an hour. But the state and private providers historically have differed on how far raises will go, because the state allows much less for employee benefits and other employment-related overhead than providers say those expenses actually cost.
A trade association of two thirds of private providers in the state says that on average, entry-level employee make about $11.44 an hour, while more experienced direct care workers make an average of about $12.50 an hour. The Connecticut legislature enacted a minimum wage of $14.75 for developmental disability and personal care workers in 2018. Massachusetts pays $15 an hour for personal care workers, a category which includes many who support adults with developmental disabilities.