RI Senate To Vote On $256.5 Million DD Budget

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s request for an overall $10 million increase in developmental disability spending in the next fiscal year appears to be headed for full approval by the General Assembly, as the Senate prepares to vote on the $9.2-billion state budget before the current budget cycle closes June 30 and the July 4 holiday weekend begins. 

On June 22, the House ratified the recommendation of its Finance Committee, with Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, saying in advance of the vote that legislators have heard the message of direct care workers making poverty-level pay in high-responsibility jobs.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to act on the budget at a hearing June 27 at 2:30 p.m. in Room 211 of the State House.  A floor vote in the Senate is expected Thursday or Friday.

About $4 million of the developmental disability spending increase would be applied to the current budget and an additional $6 million would go into the new budget cycle beginning July 1. The total allocation for developmental disabilities in the next fiscal year would be $256.5 million.

Even as the Rhode Island House was deliberating, U.S. Senate Republicans in Washington unveiled a health care bill that would severely cut Medicaid funding -– the backbone of essential medical care and other support services for the poor and disabled throughout the country. Within 24 hours, enough Republican opposition to the bill emerged in the Senate to threaten its passage. 

The proposed state budget in Rhode Island includes a total of $11 million for one-time raises for home health care workers and those who work directly with adults with developmental disabilities. Those wage increases would raise the average hourly pay for developmental disability workers from about $11.14 to about $11.69 an hour.

The original language in Governor Raimondo’s proposal used a separate budget article to spell out assurances that the money set aside for the raises could not be used for anything else, but the House version eliminates that article and embeds those mandates elsewhere in the revised budget bill. 

Workers can expect to see the incremental boost in pay no later than Oct. 1. Three months later, on Jan. 1, 2018, the House-approved budget would raise the minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.10 an hour. On Jan. 1, 2019, the minimum wage would advance again, to $10.50 an hour.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, the leader of a drive to raise the pay of developmental disability workers to $15 an hour by July 1, 2021, said the day after the House vote that he has already begun work on the next phase of the campaign.

Last fall, DiPalma’s “15 in 5” campaign issued an early call for direct care raises, while the executive branch was still working on the budget proposal. In January, when the governor submitted her budget to the General Assembly, she highlighted the pay increases, along with a hike to the minimum wage and other initiatives.  

Several bills intended to speed up the timetable for a $15 hourly wage were introduced in the House during the current session, including one sponsored by Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, Deputy Majority Leader, which would set the starting date for that increase to next Jan. 1.

The prospective budget doesn’t support a $15 hourly rate, but Barros still got a hearing on his bill before the House Finance Committee on June 21.

Direct care workers do an “awful lot of work for some of the neediest” residents of Rhode Island, and “they certainly deserve the benefit for their labor,” Barros said.

Massachusetts is set to increase the wages of direct care workers to $15 an hour in 2018, a development that could exacerbate already high turnover in direct care work in Rhode Island.

Figures on turnover presented to the General Assembly in recent months range from 30 percent a year to 60 percent of new hires in the first six months. There are about three dozen developmental disability service agencies operating in Rhode Island and each one has a different rate of turnover.

Testifying in favor of Barros’ bill, Robert Marshall, spokesman for the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said that high turnover, a problem for years, has had a negative impact on those who need care.

Moreover, the nature of the work is changing to emphasize more individualized services, Marshall said, an apparent allusion to new federal Medicaid requirements and federal court enforcement of changes in daytime developmental disability services under provisions of a 2014 consent decree.

The greater individualization means that jobs in the direct service field are no longer interchangeable, he said. 

“Massachusetts will be very happy for us to train the staff and then give them a nearly 50 percent increase” in pay, Marshall said.  In other words, he said, a worker in East Providence can drive an extra three miles and do the same job in Seekonk, Mass., for significantly more money.

The money that is now spent on training new workers and overtime to fill critical gaps in services would probably cover most of the pay increase, Marshall said.

Part of the $10-million increase in the developmental disability budget would be used to fill a $3 million shortfall in the current fiscal year in supplemental payments to private providers and to add another $500,000 to that allowance in the budget cycle that begins July 1. 

The combined increases would hike supplemental payments from $18.5 million to $22 million a year –about 10 percent of all reimbursements made to private providers of developmental disability services – a level that DiPalma, the vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has flagged as a sign that the standard funding formula for individual clients is not working.

The supplemental payments reflect successful appeals, on a case-by-case basis, of a funding formula applied to a controversial assessment which Rhode Island uses to determine an individual’s ability to function independently. The funding formula does not take into account a client’s goals and preferences in determining individual authorizations – a problem cited by a federal court monitor overseeing reforms to the developmental disability system.

All developmental disability services in Rhode Island are funded by Medicaid at a ratio of slightly more than one federal dollar for every state dollar.

Medicaid has long been an entitlement program in which the federal government matches state outlays for a wide range of services, ranging from health care and nursing home services to specialized educational and therapeutic services for children with disabilities and community-based supports for disabled adults.

The U.S. Senate Republican bill – devised behind closed doors and released on June 22 - would set per-capita limits on federal Medicaid reimbursements to states and threaten many of the services Rhode Island now offers.

The entire Rhode Island Congressional delegation has slammed the bill, saying it amounts to a massive transfer of wealth to the rich at the expense of the poor, the elderly and the disabled through $600 billion in tax cuts.

In a statement, Sen. Jack Reed said, “Trumpcare-supporting Republicans can make all the claims they want, but their motives are obvious: they want massive tax cuts for the wealthiest at the expense of hardworking Americans whose lives, in many cases, depend on access to care.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the measure “would gut Medicaid with even deeper cuts than the wretched House version. This will blow huge holes in state budgets, forcing terrible choices between opioid treatment, care for seniors, and students with disabilities. And that’s just the beginning.  It goes after women’s health care. It would allow insurance companies to charge seniors more, and sell plans that don’t offer the basic care Americans expect. It would be bad for Rhode Islanders.”

Governor Raimondo said she will join Reed, Whitehouse and Reps. David Cicilline and James Langevin in “active opposition to this disastrous proposal." 

She accused Congressional Republicans of “trying to pass an immoral piece of legislation,” putting “American and Rhode Island lives at risk so that millionaires and billionaires can get a tax cut.”

RI Senate Leaders Launch Drive to Raise DD Workers' Pay to $15 in Next Five Years

By Gina Macris

DiPalma outlines Plan for $15 hourly wage in five years

DiPalma outlines Plan for $15 hourly wage in five years

Rhode Island Senate leaders have announced a five-year drive to lift wages of caregivers for adults with developmental disabilities to $15 an hour, with the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee saying Oct. 28 that the existing labor force is “so tenuous it is on the verge of collapse.” 

At a press conference in Warwick, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the architect of the plan, said it would start with an additional $6.8 million in Medicaid funding – half of it state revenue- in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017. 

The plan also calls for legislation that would commit the state to additional wage increases in each of the following four fiscal years, although the total cost has yet to be determined, DiPalma said. 

The General Assembly added $5 million in Medicaid funding to the current budget late in the 2016 legislative session, under pressure from Governor Gina Raimondo and from a federal court order reinforcing a consent decree mandating integration of individuals with developmental disabilities. 

The U.S. Department of Justice and an independent court monitor had expressed concern that low salaries prevented service agencies from attracting workers with the necessary skills to implement the consent decree. 

The $5 million added to the current budget – including $2.5 million in state funds - raises the average worker’s hourly wage by 36 cents, from $10.82 to $11.18, according to DiPalma. The $6.8 million in the next budget would add another 76 cents, for a new average hourly rate of $11.94, he said. 

Similar yearly hikes would be needed during the following four years to reach $15 an hour, DiPalma said, although the increments do not have to be evenly divided as long as the state reaches the goal by July 1, 2021, the start of the 2022 fiscal year. 

He plans to introduce legislation in the next session of the General Assembly calling for raises over multiple years. 

The effort has the support of the Senate President, Teresa Paiva Weed, and the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Daniel DaPonte. DiPalma is first vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

 Late Friday, David Ortiz, press secretary to Governor Raimondo, said that while the current budget gave workers their first raise in several years, “we must do more to stay competitive with neighboring states. “ 

“The Governor looks forward to partnering with Senator DiPalma and Senate President Paiva Weed to continue to invest in better outcomes for families and help ensure all of our workers can make it in Rhode Island,” Ortiz said. 

Massachusetts has agreed to pay personal care attendants a minimum of $15 an hour by 2018.  Enacted in 2015, it was the first such state-wide agreement in the nation. 

New York recently adopted legislation spelling out a multi-year plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage for all workers, with different schedules for various regions of the state. 

In a statement in Warwick Friday, DaPonte said that DiPalma’s plan “addresses an important part of the wage inequity problem, and helps improve outcomes for the individuals they serve. 

“At the same time, we need to continue to review the methodology for compensating all those direct care workers who serve our children, homebound elderly, and individuals with disabilities through other types of provider agencies,” he said. 

During the press conference at West Bay Residential Services on Knight Street, DaPonte talked about a constituent who approached him at his son’s soccer game and complained that his recently-widowed, elderly mother was not receiving the 20 hours of home care to which she was entitled. 

The constituent wanted DaPonte to introduce legislation to require home health aides to show up on the job. 

But DaPonte said he told the man that the workers were so poorly paid the agencies “can’t find people to show up.” 

“Now we’re at the point where the system is so tenuous it’s on the verge of collapse,” he told an audience of about 50 that filled a conference room at the headquarters of the agency, which specializes in support for individuals with significant physical limitations.  

Data shows Pay Inequities, Particularly for Women

DiPalma’s plan emerged from a four-month long study that showed stark inequities in the pay of direct care workers since the General Assembly cut a total of $26 million from the developmental disability budget in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2011. 

With that sweeping action, workers saw double-digit pay cuts, to an average of $10.65 an hour, according to DiPalma’s data. At the time, the minimum wage was $3.25 lower, or $7.40 an hour. 

Since then, however, the state’s minimum wage has increased 30 percent, to $9.60 an hour, while the average pay of direct care workers has remained stagnant. 

In the fiscal year which ended June 30, Rhode Island’s direct care workers made an hourly average of $10.82 an hour, while those doing comparable work in Massachusetts were paid $13.02,  and those in Connecticut made $12.19, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The figures pertain to employees of private agencies providing direct care. In Rhode Island, a parallel, state-run system pays its entry-level workers $17.15 an hour, for an annual salary of $35,668. These workers also get thestate employee benefits package, according to DiPalma’s statistics.  

With longevity, the average direct care worker in the state system makes $42,278 a year, he said. 

DiPalma also presented the results of a 2015 survey of direct care workers conducted in 2015 by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, an association made up of most of some three dozen private agencies in Rhode Island that serve about 4000 adults with developmental disabilities. 

With 1,439 responses, the survey found that:

  •  More than half the workers were female heads of households
  • · Many received food stamps and other government assistance geared toward low-income workers
  • ·87 percent worked fulltime
  • ·41 percent worked more than one job to make ends meet
  • · 62 percent said they want to leave the developmental disabilities field because of the low pay 

The turnover among employees of private agencies is 33 percent a year, three times the turnover rate of 11 percent in the parallel state-run system, according to DiPalma’s study. 

Higher wages would mean greater stability and improved performance in the workforce, DiPalma said. 

Picking up where DiPalma left off, the director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College said research shows those two factors correlate with a better quality of life for the recipients of support services. 

Anthony Antosh said a better quality of life is measured by improved health and safety, more interpersonal relationships and greater self-determination among individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Jim Petrone works his communication board

Jim Petrone works his communication board

Jim Petrone, who receives support from West Bay Residential Services, used a communication board to tell the audience that he could not have made it through a health crisis in 2015 without the support of his staff and family. 

“Now I have a second chance at life,” he said. 


Diane Scott, who has worked at West Bay Residential Services for 26 years, reminded the audience that those who provide direct care come to learn the most intimate details about a person’s life. 

“Imagine,” she said, “if staff showered you or bathed you.” 

“No sooner do you decide to trust these staff than they continue to leave. Regulars work extra hours to compensate for yet another staff vacancy,” Scott said. 

Antosh said direct care workers should be treated not as short-term custodial staff but as professionals, who are on a career ladder, and who provide comprehensive support to people with very complex needs.  


dsp wage comparison.jpg


General Assembly Approves $15.4 Million Increase For DD; Worker Raises Are Assured

By Gina Macris 

Rhode Island’s developmental disability budget for the next fiscal year includes assurances that aa total of $9.1 million in Medicaid money will be spent to raise pay for direct support workers and to begin transforming the state’s system of services for those with intellectual challenges.

Shortly after 1:30 am on Saturday, June 18, The Senate approved total developmental disability funding of $246.2 million beginning July 1 in concurrence with the House vote taken Wednesday. That total, almost all of it state and federal Medicaid funds, is nearly $15.4 million more than the General Assembly approved last year at this time for the current budget, which closes on June 30.

New budget language ensures that $4.5 million in state revenue earmarked for worker raises and performance-based contracts can’t be used for anything else in the overall appropriation of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The language is significant. In the recent past, as much $9 million has been budgeted in a single year to raise the wages of some 4,000 workers who provide direct support services, but the money has gone instead to help close deficits in the BHDDH budget.

The workers make an average of about $11.50 an hour, often less than the clients they support in jobs in fast food restaurants. Many of the direct support staff receive public assistance,  according to testimony presented to the House and Senate finance committees during the current legislative session.

The big difference between this year and past legislative sessions has been a federal court case aimed at enforcing a 2014 consent decree in which Rhode Island agreed to transform sheltered workshops and segregated day programs into a community-based system of services over a 10-year period. The decree settled a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found the sheltered workshops violated the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1999 so-called Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which clarified that requirement.

In late January of this year, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court became actively involved in monitoring the state’s compliance with the consent decree. In May, he issued an order putting the state at risk for contempt if it does not meet any one of nearly two dozen specific goals.

One of the requirements in the order is that the state adopt increased funding sought by Governor Gina Raimondo for developmental disabilities in the next fiscal year “in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.” The order does not mention a specific dollar amount.

Several other requirements in the order collectively set an August 1 deadline for implementing appropriate raises for direct support staff, regular supervision of workers, and a pilot group of performance-based contracts for supported employment services.

It’s not yet clear how much money the raises will add to the workers’ pay, or what the incentives will be in the performance-based contracts.

Initially, Raimondo’s budget proposal included a little more than $5 million for raises of 45 cents an hour, but that sum was not considered enough to provide performance initiatives to the private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability services in Rhode Island. .

After improved state revenue projections in May, Raimondo added another $4 million to wages and other increases to providers. .  

Raimondo sought protective language to segregate state revenue budgeted for pay increases for developmental disability workers, but that wording was eliminated in the budget passed by the House Finance Committee.

Sometime before the June 15 vote on the House floor, however, new and more detailed language was inserted, a House spokesman confirmed Friday night. 

The new language says that $4.5 million of general revenue “shall be expended on private provider direct support staff raises and associated payroll costs to include targeted increases associated with performance-based contracting and system transformation incentives” authorized by BHDDH.

Because funding for developmental disability services is part of the state’s Medicaid program, the $4.5 million in state revenue set aside for raises would be matched by federal funds, for a total of slightly more than $9 million..

Raises also must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget and the Executive Office of Human Services, according to the budget language. Changes in reimbursement methods must be approved by the Governor’s office and OMB.