Labor & Business

Adequate pay needed for those who work with Rhode Islanders with with developmental disabilities

Because the work is demanding and the pay is well below a living wage, agencies have struggled to recruit and retain the staff they need.

April 21, 2023, 2:11 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Over 200 people crowded the Rhode Island State House rotunda as Senator Louis DiPalma and Representative Julie Casimiro presented legislation to help ease the burden on people impacted by insufficient funding for home and community-based programs for seniors, people with developmental disabilities and other Rhode Islanders who need care.

Christina Battista is a supported employment coordinator with the agency Skills for Rhode Island’s Future. In that job, she helps individuals with disabilities achieve their job goals by writing resumes, doing mock interviews and providing other supports. Battista, who has disabilities herself, also relies on personal care assistants to help with her care.

“The dedicated staff who help care for me earn under $18 an hour,” said Battista. “That leads to high turnover and I sometimes worry there won’t be enough trusted staff to provide the care I need. Our dedicated caregivers should be paid better so we have enough applicants to ensure people like myself always get the support we need.”

“For years we have underfunded these vital services,” said Senator DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton), who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance. “This bill will ensure we are investing in the care of Rhode Islanders – and, in turn, that we are investing in our health and human services economy. For our providers, the people they serve and the future of our state, this budget item is incredibly important.”

“Our human services system is suffering a crisis of care that’s only worsened since the pandemic,” said Representative Casimiro (Democrat, District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter). “Our system is understaffed and under-supported and it is hurting our most vulnerable residents. This funding is crucial to ensuring our neighbors get the support they need and the staff who care for them are compensated fairly.”

Through Medicaid, the state contracts with private agencies operating throughout Rhode Island to provide direct support to thousands of seniors, adults living with developmental disabilities and others. The staff working for these agencies help with everything from hygiene to job training to social work, based on the needs of each client.

By keeping people in their homes and communities, the programs improve their quality of life say advocates, and by keeping them out of expensive institutions such as nursing homes and hospitals, the programs save the state money. Because the work is demanding and the pay is well below a living wage, agencies have struggled to recruit and retain the staff they need.

Legislation (S0782 and H5987) introduced by Senator DiPalma and Representative Casimiro would allocate $200 million for home and community based providers of health and human services. That would provide a 10% rate increase to help these providers stabilize staffing levels and ensure adequate and safe care of residents.

Senator Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton)
Representative Julie Casimiro (Democrat, District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter)