Rock Island, IL — For eight long years, the State of Illinois has not increased Medicaid rates for developmental disability services, even though inflation grew by 14% during that same time period. Years of insufficient funding, and lack of rate increases for service workers who provide quality and compassionate direct care for people with disabilities, has created a statewide funding crisis. Like many agencies in Illinois, The Arc of the Quad Cities Area is also affected.
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are service staff who teach important life skills, assist with personal care and administer medications to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They have the greatest impact on the quality of life, safety, and community access in the lives of individuals with disabilities. Because state rates have remained stagnant for too long, the ability to hire and retain quality staff has left The Arc with a 12% vacancy rate putting pressure and on existing staff to pickup additional hours and shifts, ballooning overtime expenditures and increasing worker fatigue. Only people can take care of people: better efficiencies and technology cannot make up for service staff.
The crisis was not created by the current budget impasse, although the current inaction has brought the crisis to a head. Years of neglect from state government has resulted in Illinois being the 7th worst in per capital expenditures for community-based developmental disability services. The U.S. average per capita spending is $169, Illinois is $92. Additionally, Illinois has fallen behind neighboring states and in a bi-state region. This has serious consequences. Iowa’s per capita expenditures are $208, more than twice the rates in Illinois. The State of Illinois can do better and is putting agencies and individuals with disabilities at a serious disadvantage.
The average statewide wage for DSPs is only $9.35 an hour and statewide community providers are reporting staff vacancies as high as 30%. The statewide average pay is less than the federal poverty rate for a family of three. Although, The Arc of the Quad Cities pays higher than the State average, competition and a tightening labor market has reduced the number of qualified applicants. The direct support positions demands extensive training, maturity, patience and judgment. The very qualities anyone would want in a care professional who we or a loved one depend on. The responsibilities and requirements of the position vastly exceed those of other entry-level employment.
The Arc of the Quad Cities Area is calling for action from the Illinois Quad Cities community to advocate for passing Illinois House Bill HB5931 and Senate Bill SB2052 to increase wages for staff that care directly for individuals with disabilities in agencies throughout the State of Illinois. Without a substantial increase, the current staffing crisis will continue to grow and will put individuals with disabilities at risk.
The crisis also puts on standby the strides that have been made for greater inclusion and community access for individuals with disabilities in community life. When there is not enough staff for essential activities of daily living, trips to see the River Bandits and participation in the arts and community events are reduced or eliminated. On January 7, 2016 a federal court monitor found the State of Illinois noncompliant with the Ligas Consent Decree, a court order that ensures access to community care for individuals with disabilities. The monitor found that community agencies’ inability to hire direct support staff had decreased service quality and community engagement activities. Raising the wages of Direct Support Professionals directly affects quality of care, keeps the State of Illinois in-line with federal mandates and will help The Arc of the Quad Cities compete in the bi-state region for quality service professionals who are the foundation for community living.