On Thursday, February 13, over 150 advocates including self-advocates, family members, direct support professionals, and more braved the rain and snow to join The Arc of Massachusetts and the Supporting Families Coalition for our annual Supporting Families Advocacy Day at the Massachusetts State House.
The initial program was held at the Church on the Hill, where advocates gathered to be empowered and inspired by presentations from legislative leaders and family advocates.
Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, the Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, got things started by both congratulating and thanking families for their tireless efforts on behalf of Nicky’s Law. “It’s constant vigilance to make sure we are hearing your stories,” Senator Chang-Díaz stressed, highlighting the importance of persistence in advocacy. “Keep coming back at us.”
Serving as our primary legislative address was Representative Denise Garlick, the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Representative Garlick offered thoughts on the current crisis in the Direct Support Workforce not only from the perspective of a legislator, but also that of a mother. She discussed her daughter’s experience of frequent turnover in the field of Direct Support, highlighting the ways in which the frequent openings and turnover can adversely affect the health, safety, and wellbeing of our loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and autism.
She then offered a reflection on the role of the State Budget in advancing a better workforce, highlighting in particular the current $160 million allotted for the Chapter 257 POS Reserve, and The Arc’s budget ask of an additional $60 million to be added to the Reserve, for a total of $220 million allotted. “We have to get people who want to do this work to get paid so they can live their lives, support their families,” Representative Garlick stated, before once again bringing of the crucial role of families sharing their stories of the ways in which they personally experience the workforce shortage crisis. “Your job is to tell your story. Make your stories matter.”
Following our two legislative speakers, parent advocates Dianne Huggon and Kathleen Amaral addressed the crowd, sharing their stories of advocating on behalf of their sons Jonathan and Liam, as well as the ways in which they have personally struggled during the workforce shortage, and benefited from the presence of DSPs in truly invaluable ways.
We are so grateful for all who came out and made this Supporting Families Day one of our best yet. Together, we can continue to make change where it’s needed most.
Please contact your legislators today with the priorities established in The Arc’s FY2021 State Budget ask sheet. You can download the PDF version here.