People who live in group homes, depend on education and vocational programs, and rely on day habilitation and respite care, need and deserve competent and experienced staff. And direct support professionals who do the important work of providing care need to earn fair wages.
Without paying living wages to staff, there are too few workers to provide care, and good staff reluctantly leave because they cannot provide for their families.
At a rally for the campaign #bfairtodirectcare, Michelle Treffi, an SEIU 200United member, chapter Vice Chairperson, and Employment Counselor at the Center for Work and Independence in Glens Falls NY, spoke up for direct care workers. Her speech is below.
“I have been working with individuals with intellectual disabilities for over 7 years. Over the course of the last 7 years I have only received 1 cost of living adjustment, and that was only attained after a lengthy public and political fight. I have always said that I didn’t get into the human services field or become a Direct Support Professional to get rich but I shouldn’t have to work two jobs to pay for the education required by the state in order to do my job, especially when I can go work elsewhere and make comparable wages with far less responsibility.
“Sadly, this is what is happening across the state. DSP’s are leaving their jobs, not because they don’t love what they do, but because they need to make a living wage. The salary for DSP’s used to start several dollars above minimum wage, unfortunately, with stagnant pay, now a majority of positions barely above minimum wage. The turnover rate in this field is more than 20% and most not-for-profit agencies have around a 10% vacancy rate. This means that the care the individuals receive suffers. Each individual that participates in services needs to be able to develop trust with DSP’s. And in order to do so effectively it is pertinent that we provide the work support needed for their care. How can that happen when staff turnover rates are so high and so many positions remain vacant?
“Governor Cuomo has publicly stated that individuals with disabilities should be as independent possible, and has pushed for all individuals to employment first. How can this happen when staff cannot be retained to assist individuals to achieve their goals? Without economic support from the state to assist with better wages for DSP’s the individuals suffer and struggle to achieve their goals.
“We have DSP’s with special licenses and certifications required by the state to do their jobs, CDL drivers, Med Certifications, Dining trained, including use of feeding tubes, behavior de-escalation techniques….. Some of these DSP’s are making less than someone working in a retail setting.
“I have seen staff investigated for allegations of abuse, not because they aren’t doing their job, and doing it well, but because there is lack of adequate staffing as people are leaving for better paying jobs and positions remain vacant. If the system continues to operate as it is now, with minimal funding and poor wages for DSP’s we will find ourselves in a situation we have all been trying so hard to move past….. Institutionalization.
“Recently I attended a training on Person Centered Planning and there was a quote that resonated with me. ‘Assist me to have a voice, listen to what I say when I tell you what I want, respond in a way that tells me I’m a person first and foremost, and respect me by acting on what I say.’”