On April 12, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services reached a “hazard pay” agreement effective through May 30 with several unions representing state health and human services workers. As a result, state employees working on the front lines will earn an additional $5 or $10 an hour, enhanced overtime pay, and are eligible for a bonus of up to $500.
This agreement has created an extreme pay disparity that will have catastrophic consequences for community-based human service agencies, compromising our ability to provide quality care and supports to individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability (ID/DD). Paying one group of staff doing this important work substantially more than another sends a very clear message that one group of workers is valued over another.
There are approximately 150,000 human services workers in the Commonwealth who provide critical supports to some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and families. Many of these employees are still working, having been deemed “essential” by Governor Charlie Baker for their roles providing care and supports for people with intellectual and developmental (ID/DD) disabilities living in the community.
While they may not be as visible as healthcare workers, first responders, and those who are working on the front lines in grocery stores and delivery services, community-based human services staff are putting themselves at risk to support the individuals that they serve. They support a largely invisible population and they do it without fanfare. They are working in group homes, providing vital assistance to individuals with an ID/DD in their homes, coordinating medical services, and executing personalized support plans for families among many other tasks.
Bottom line? The entire ID/DD workforce is essential. Without them, the consequences to the people they serve would be catastrophic. Direct support professionals (DSPs) at Arc-affiliated chapters in all 351 communities of the Commonwealth are taking on additional responsibility in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, including temperature and wellness checks, PPE training, and coordination with health care professionals.
To be clear, we strongly support “hazard pay” for our DSP workforce. To date, many community-based human service agencies have already put temporary “hazard pay” compensation in place with limited additional support from the state. But the sad reality is that nonprofit organizations who rely on state contracts for the majority of their revenue cannot afford to offer a comparable wage increase without commensurate increases in rates on our state contracts. We, like many other organizations, are struggling in this unprecedented time.
Given the already existing pay inequities for provider agencies in comparison to wages paid by the state for the same work, it has become exponentially more challenging for community-based agencies to fill critical human service job openings. Many of our staff work two jobs to provide for their families as it is, and this hazard pay agreement between the state and its employees only exacerbates that inequity.
We fear that in the absence of action on the part of the administration to align the compensation of DSPs in state-run facilities and community-based agencies, we will have a workforce crisis on our hands. We are actively managing a healthcare crisis: this is the worst possible time for a workforce crisis.
The people we serve can’t afford to lose these experienced and dedicated direct care professionals. We urge the administration to act quickly to fix this inequity…before it’s too late.
Jean M. Phelps, CEO