June 01, 2017

Fight for fair wages continues, $15 minimum wage bill heads to governor’s desk

The Illinois General Assembly’s regular session ended Wednesday without final action on a bill to raise base wages for disability workers to $15 an hour. Lawmakers did send Gov. Rauner a bill that would increase the state minimum wage. If signed into law by Governor Rauner, it would raise the wages of DSPs as well as hundreds of thousands of other workers in our state, to $15 an hour over five years.

SB 955 passed the Senate after extensive efforts by a coalition of AFSCME members, employer agencies and families whose advocacy garnered the attention of the media and legislators. They also delivered over 7,000 postcards to Gov. Rauner urging him to support the wage increase.

While the Senate passed the bill May 10, the House did not call the bill for a vote by the May 31 deadline. It can still be voted out of the House during the scheduled June “overtime” session, but passage now requires a three-fifths super-majority.

The coalition will continue pushing legislators to pass SB 955 out of the House and the General Assembly to pass a state budget that funds a $15 wage.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour without additional funding from the state would cause tremendous destabilization in disability agencies. They could not pay the higher wage at current state reimbursement rates. That’s why SB 955 is so important. It not only requires fair wages, but also provides needed additional funds to support those wages.

More than 34,000 DSPs support 27,000 individuals with disabilities across Illinois. But because DSPs are paid just $9.35 an hour—below the poverty line for a family of three—provider agencies are unable to retain or hire adequate staff. As a result, dedicated DSPs are unable to provide for their families and quality of care for individuals with disabilities suffers due to high staff turnover.

Rauner vetoed a similar bill last year, claiming that DSP wages should be addressed as part of a comprehensive state budget. However, Rauner’s FY18 budget introduced in February included no such increase.

“After 15 years I make less than $12 an hour—or less than $25,000 a year—for full-time work,” said Christine Rivera, who currently works as a DSP in a group home. “A wage increase would help decrease turnover rates. I’m really struggling and like others I am forced to consider leaving work that I am extremely passionate about.

“Passing this critical legislation would solve the problem of staff shortages and would provide fair compensation for a tough and responsible job,” Rivera said.

As a consequence of the state’s failure to pay adequate wages, a federal court monitor has found the Illinois Department of Human Services is out of compliance with the Ligas consent decree that ensures people with developmental disabilities can access the services and supports they need in the setting they choose.

“Thousands of positions go unfilled every day because of the abysmal reimbursement rates we’ve received from the state for a decade,” said Kim Zoeller, Executive Director of Ray Graham Association.

“Daniel leads a vulnerable life,” parent Charlotte Cronen said of her 31-year-old son. “He cannot talk. He is incontinent. He has poor motor skills. He has huge behavioral challenges. When Daniel is upset, he bites and scratches. He can really hurt you.

“Direct support professionals that care for Daniel and others like him have amazing skills. They deserve much, much better.”

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