AFSCME wants raises for workers who care for patients with disabilities – News – The State Journal-Register

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and others on Wednesday delivered thousands of postcards to Gov. Bruce Rauner in support of legislation that would raise the minimum wage for workers who care for patients with developmental disabilities.

Last year, Rauner vetoed increasing the wage to $15 an hour because he said the state didn’t have the money. Direct support providers now make $8.35, 10 cents higher than Illinois’ minimum wage.

Art Dykstra, president of Trinity Services, which offers programs to support people with disabilities, wants action now.

“If you thought of Illinois in the midst of a forest fire, people wouldn’t wait for legislation to be passed to put it out. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what we’re living with,” Dykstra said. “I would argue that Gov. Rauner could do something about it today if he wanted to. At some point, he will, because people continue to die and he won’t be able to ignore it.”

By a 36-20 vote Wednesday, the Illinois Senate approved Senate Bill 955, which increases the caregivers’ wage to $15 an hour. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, now goes to the House. A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, is in a House committee.

Meredith Krantz, an Illinois Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said without a state budget, raising the hourly rate would add “a tremendous expense to Illinois’ debts.”

“Professionals who assist individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities perform difficult and important work. Raising the hourly rate for direct support professionals to fifteen dollars per hour would cost over $300,000,000 annually,” Krantz said in a written statement. “… We encourage the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget with structural changes that could enable us to better use taxpayer dollars for individuals with developmental disabilities and other priorities.”

Dykstra argued that because of low pay, a third of his available jobs are vacant.

“In my entire 50 years of working in this field, I have never experienced such a staffing crisis. Providers cannot hire sufficient numbers of direct support staff primarily because of the low entry level (wage),” Dykstra said. “Direct support staff is the backbone of our organizations. At Trinity Services, we should have 539 direct support staff. Today, we have 172 staff vacancies. We’re starting to discharge individuals because we don’t simply have enough staff.”

Kim Zoeller, president of the Ray Graham Association, a group that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, gave a similar account.

“We cannot fill these critical positions because of the abysmal reimbursement rate that we’ve received from the state for a decade now,” Zoeller said. “This results in our field’s most important critical human resource, our direct support professionals, to have to work…

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