Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, First Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and members of the Rhode Island Senate held a news conference today to outline a “$15 in 5” plan to increase wages paid to direct care workers who provide services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The senator envisions annual, incremental increases in compensation to reach $15 an hour in five years, and tying the pay rate to inflation thereafter.

He is calling for inclusion of the increase in the Governor’s annual budget submission. He also will submit legislation in the 2017 session to address the compensation system for these direct care workers, providing annual increases so that the pay rate of direct care workers reaches $15 in five years, and tying future wage increases beyond five years to inflation.

“The minimum wage has increased by 30 percent since 2012, but the rate paid to these essential direct care providers has remained stagnant,” said Sen. DiPalma. “The pay is now barely more than minimum wage, which is having a detrimental effect on staff retention, training costs, and, as a result, quality of care.”

Sen. DiPalma continued, “The facts and data show that our direct care workers love their jobs and want to stay in the field. They genuinely care about the population they serve. Yet, 62 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated that low salary was a factor that may make them leave their jobs. We need to act to address this urgent situation.”

The average annual staff turnover rate in the private provider network is approximately 33 percent, which is three times as high as the approximately 11 percent staff turnover rate for comparable positions with the state-run providers through the Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS) at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, according to providers and RICLAS.

The average private-sector direct care worker makes $10.82 per hour, or about $22,500 a year. Entry level provider positions at state RICLAS, meanwhile, pay $17.15 an hour. When considering longevity, the average wage for all RICLAS direct care workers is approximately $42,278. RICLAS workers also receive state employee benefits.

A 2015 survey by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island found that the majority of direct care workers are women head of households. Many receive state assistance from programs geared towards low-income workers, such as SNAP benefits, WIC, heating assistance, day care assistance, and housing aid. More than 40 percent of the workers hold more than one job.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Da Ponte said, “Increasing wages to private direct care workers addresses an important part of the wage inequity problem, and helps improve outcomes for the individuals they serve. At the same time, we need to continue to review the methodology for compensating all those direct care workers who serve our children, homebound elderly, and individuals with disabilities through other types of provider agencies.”

President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed said, “I want to thank Senator DiPalma for his strong leadership on this issue. His analysis and his work to move the state forward will result in more consistent care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Increasing compensation in this critical field will help the industry retain a quality workforce and better serve these members of our communities.”

A. Anthony Antosh, Director of the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities, said, “The field of developmental disabilities has dramatically changed in the past two decades as have the responsibilities and expectations for direct support staff.  The outcomes achieved by adults who have a developmental disability are directly connected to the quality and stability of direct support staff. Developing a career ladder built on quality training and fair wages will go a long way towards stabilizing the direct support workforce and improving quality of services.”

Donna Martin, Executive Director of Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, said, “On behalf of the members of CPNRI, I want to thank Senator DiPalma for his understanding of the essential role our Direct Support Professionals serve. He has proven to be a committed advocate for our staff who work tirelessly to assist people with disabilities to have meaningful, integrated lives in our communities.”

Senator DiPalma thanked those who have worked closely with him to address this issue. “I want to thank the Senate President, who has been such a strong supporter of this cause, and Chairman Da Ponte, who works tirelessly to ensure vulnerable populations receive quality services through the state budget. I also want to thank the union leaders and, of course, the service providers themselves. Labor leaders and the workers have worked collaboratively with us as we strive to provide fair compensation that enables them to better serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”