Roundtable Examines Importance of Direct Support Professionals

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PENNSYLVANIA — State lawmakers held a House Majority Policy Committee roundtable discussion Tuesday on the importance of ensuring direct support professionals can earn a living wage. 

“Direct support professionals provide a critical service to our communities,” said state Rep. Tarik Khan, who hosted the hearing and represents portions of Philadelphia. “As we learned… ensuring our government enables direct support professionals to earn a living wage should be our No. 1 objective in helping these professionals continue to provide the care we know is essential, not only to people with disabilities but also to their community.”

The roundtable featured G.N. Janes, the CEO of Valley Community Services; Michael Anderson, an advocate and homeowner; Carrin Butts, a direct support professional who assists Anderson; and Dr. Josie Badger, the founder of Badger Consulting Inc.

Direct support professionals are people who assist people with disabilities.

“We’ve created a system that is an obstacle course,” Policy Committee Deputy Vice Chair Rep. Melissa Shusterman said about the many difficulties direct support professionals are encountering. “We have to address so many aspects just to get things back on track, and yet there is still so much more we need to look at, including reduced costs for transportation or how to provide affordable housing or improving benefits – like paid sick days.”

Anderson detailed his ability to live in his own home, but he needs 24-hour care for physical disabilities because of cerebral palsy. He noted that without direct support professionals, he would need to live in a nursing home. He detailed his struggles in hiring and retaining direct support professionals since wages have not kept up with the cost of living.

Janes detailed how frontline direct support professionals are being ground down through long hours, low pay and high turnover – noting that roughly 1 in 4 direct support professional jobs is currently vacant. Despite its importance, the field does not pay well in Pennsylvania.

“This is not a minimum wage job,” Janes said.

Butts earns $12.50 an hour and explained how direct support professionals build lasting and substantial relationships with the people they assist. Representatives noted in other states, the same job can pay $24 an hour. Badger noted that a person with a disability like herself often can be the breadwinner of a household, in part because reliable direct support professionals are not readily available, and spouses are relied on to be 24/7 caregivers.

More information on the House Majority Policy Committee can be found at pahouse.com/Policy. Submitted testimony from the hearing, and prior hearings, can be found here.

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