Governor Shapiro Pledges Unprecedented Investment in Community-Based Service Providers for Pennsylvanians with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism

Autism RoundtableCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

WARMINSTER, PA — Governor Josh Shapiro, accompanied by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS), Dr. Val Arkoosh, made a notable stop at BARC Developmental Services in Bucks County on Wednesday. The visit was not merely ceremonial; it served as a critical discussion platform.

Their mission was to interact directly with Pennsylvanians grappling with intellectual disabilities and autism, their caregivers, and advocates. The agenda was to elucidate on the governor’s proposed investments for the 2024-25 budget, which will facilitate greater access to home and community-based services, and address the scarcity of direct support professionals.

Governor Shapiro’s proposal involves an injection of $483 million from federal and state coffers. The intent? To bolster resources for home and community-based service providers. These providers, in turn, will be empowered to offer competitive rates to attract and retain staff needed to provide essential services. Notably, service providers and direct support professionals (DSPs) will see their average starting salaries jump from around $15 an hour to $17 an hour – a move that paves the way for additional raises for more experienced DSPs.

Speaking candidly, the governor described a budget as more than a mere collection of spreadsheet figures. He emphasized it as a reflection of societal priorities and principles. For him, these principles revolve around assisting those receiving support and those providing it. According to Shapiro, the upcoming budget allows for an unprecedented investment to create opportunities for higher wages and more employment in this sector.

The Governor highlighted an initiative from the previous year where the DHS was directed to conduct an early review of reimbursement rates. The purpose was to offer better support to ID/A service providers and direct support professionals that assist Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and autism. Reimbursement rates usually see adjustments every three years, but Shapiro decided an early review was necessary to counteract the critical workforce shortages among service providers. His budget proposal for the forthcoming year will fund the entire rate increase, assisting recruitment, retention, and higher wages for DSPs.

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Governor Shapiro emphasized the importance of these investments with a real-life example. He shared the story of Matthew Jennings, a resident of Lititz who requires round-the-clock support. Matthew’s mother, Cindy, a single mom battling health challenges of her own, along with her mother, Judy, bear the burden of Matthew’s care as the state does not pay DSPs enough to provide the necessary support.

Moreover, the governor’s proposal outlines a plan to eliminate the emergency waiting list for adult services and lower care access barriers for thousands of Pennsylvanians over the next few years. This plan includes a $78 million investment to serve an additional 1,500 Pennsylvanians with ID/A on the waitlist in the coming fiscal year.

The Governor is keen to ensure that all Pennsylvanians can lead a vibrant and dignified life, including those in the ID/A community. To accomplish this, the DHS is set to restructure program administration to offer county program administrators more flexibility to serve more people based on local needs, real-time service utilization, and overall costs.

Indeed, these sweeping changes mean that Pennsylvania is poised to become a leader in the home and community-based services arena. By eliminating the waiting list for services, investing in ID/A service providers and DSPs, and showcasing our commitment to a better future, Pennsylvania is taking a decisive stride toward creating a better future for all its residents.

BARC Developmental Services, a non-profit organization that serves more than 700 individuals with ID/A annually, welcomed the Governor and Secretary Arkoosh. It was a historic moment to discuss the potential of these proposed investments. The organization has been a consistent provider of early intervention and residential and vocational programs for over 70 years.

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Mary Sautter, the Executive Director of BARC Development Services, applauded Governor Shapiro’s proposed investment. She emphasized that the DSPs are the lifeline of their services, working tirelessly to ensure individuals lead happy, fulfilling lives. The proposed budget will aid in increasing wages for DSPs and help agencies like BARC recruit and retain qualified staff.

The ball now lies in the state legislature’s court to maintain this funding in the 2024-25 budget. For the sake of Cindy, Judy, Matthew, and countless Pennsylvanians like them, let’s hope they do.

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