State must raise pay for adult caregivers, advocates say
DOVER — In 2018, the General Assembly unanimously passed legislation to raise the hourly rates the state pays to subsidize services provided by caregivers for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The bill phases in increases for the caregivers, who are also known as direct support professionals, so that over a three-year period the reimbursement would grow from 75 percent of the hourly market wage established in a 2014 study to 100 percent.
Advocates hailed its passage, with one nonprofit calling it a “milestone” and supporters speaking of the good it would do in helping attract and retain direct support professionals, benefiting both those employees and the population they care for.
But the measure does not bind the General Assembly to fund those increases, and Gov. John Carney’s proposed budget marks only a small increase in the rate.
His plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 would bump the state funding from 81.2 to 83.3 percent of the market rate at a cost of just under $2 million to Delaware’s General Fund.
That hike, many advocates said during a Joint Finance Committee hearing Thursday, is not enough.
Officials from the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services detailed to lawmakers on the committee their agency’s work and budgetary needs, followed by testimony from more than a dozen members of the public. Both direct support professionals and parents of individuals with disabilities urged JFC to increase the rates beyond what Gov. Carney recommended.
“I have faced many hardships throughout the years, too numerous to mention all,” Tamika Crosell, who has worked as a direct support professional since 1995, said. “I have had times where I had to choose whether I should pay my rent in full and chance having my car insurance canceled or buying unhealthy, cheap foods just so I can stretch my paycheck. …
“I have also left this field once or twice because there were other jobs that pay more, and I know of many others who have done the same. Those of us who are passionate about supporting individuals with disabilities are being forced to look elsewhere for employment even though that is not where our hearts are.”
Direct support professionals help adults who have conditions such as autism, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Care can include assisting them in finding employment or something as basic as feeding or bathing them. It is, many speakers said, a demanding job but also a rewarding one.
One thing it is not is lucrative.