At The Arc, we continually think about what we need to do on behalf of or share with our constituency – which is YOU! The past several days were no different as we tried to re-boot the passage of Nicky’s Law, which would establish an Abuse Registry, during the legislature’s informal session. Thank goodness for stakeholders who are passionate about this essential bill to protect people with disabilities. I’m glad to see an ongoing dialogue regarding passage of this bill and we hope that the House will join the Senate shortly in its passage. The administration continues to signal its full support.
Another emerging issue for The Arc over the past few years has been the workforce crisis both for providers and in home care for families and individuals. Over the past few months, our Steering Committee on Policy has been working on a plan for addressing this issue. Imagine salary averages between $21,500 to $25,300 (most below $14 per hour). How do these employees pay for the basic one bedroom apartment at $1,123 per month (2015 statistic)?
This is the major reason we have a workforce crisis. We know that most of the workforce either works two jobs or is extremely low income as defined by being at 30% or less of the median income for an area. Individuals or families wait for months to find someone to fill a position, while providers pay for relief staff or have vacancies where the individuals they support lose out. Family members are forced to leave jobs or deal with inadequate situations at home.
Compare our workforce wages to other occupational group average wages from the Commonwealth’s online database. Janitors/cleaners (no formal education required) and office clerks (HS degree required) have mean wages of $35,300 and $38,360 respectively. Our field is competing against a broader market for hiring, whether it’s for residential services, in-home care, nursing (much lower rates than hospitals), or day programs. In July 2018, Personal Care Attendant rates increased to $15 per hour (annually if full time is $31,000) but that still reflects neither the work required, nor the mean of the positions above.
We know that our workforce requires skills more complex than many other jobs, and that the work is relationship based. We require staff who not only assist or teach activities of daily living, but who can also prepare adults and children for independence, or bridge our constituents to community opportunities. We need staff that will stay at their jobs for some time.
The rates which underlie the payments to home care positions and programs need to factor into these wages, especially given the Massachusetts housing market and the cost of health insurance. The devil is in the details of developing these rates and wage categories. After years of atrophy in Massachusetts and the nation, it’s time to move forward.
Leo V. Sarkissian