Illinois neglects promised pay increase to caregivers

SPRINGFIELD, Ill (WAND)- It's been two months since Illinois lawmakers approved a pay raise for caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but organizations are still waiting to see the funds. 

The raise was approved on July 6th as part of the state budget, and the money was set to appear on paychecks at the end of August, however organizations say they have yet to see any money from the state. Now "They Deserve More", a statewide coalition of more than 50 organizations who provide services to disabled, is calling on the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to implement the promised 75-cent per hour pay increase.

"I think the field has been understanding somewhat of the delay, but I don't believe that any service provider would have expected to be in the beginning of September and still not have a clear sense from the administration about what they are doing about this." said Josh Evans, VP of Government Relations for the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. 

It's a delay that is causing a level of uncertainty in an industry that is already in crisis. 

"That lack of investment over time has brought us to this point where now they can no longer compete with other healthcare industries, with fast food industries, other areas that are able to raise and provide higher level entry level wages because they operate under an independent different business model, where organizations are at the mercy of what the state will reimburse us through contracts." said Evans. 

The inability to compete with other industries causes high turnover in a field where consistency and experience matter.

"The role of DSPs and front line staff is critical for a number of areas, first and foremost they are a direct linkage to the individuals and family, often the most important individual to a child or an adult with a developmental disability is the continuity of having the same front line staff person working. Very real and personal relationships develop there and when you are unable to retain those staff, that is very disruptive to the lives of the individuals and their families, and that can lead to very unfortunate situations." Evans said.

Dr. Charlene Bennett, the CEO of Individual Advocacy Group, who employs between 70-80 people in Springfield and close to 500 statewide, says while she tries to keep staff happy through incentives, raises are what they need. 

"A pay increase is past due for this group of heroes." she said. 

Bennett says this is a personal issue to her, as she just lost a valuable employee of 15 years to a job that offered better pay. "How do we make these people feel of value when we say, $9.35 is all you need to live off of?" she questioned. 

Bennett says while the 75-cent pay increase from $9.35 an hour is start to paying the people for their work, it is not on par with other states in the country. For example, in Washington DC, wages for caregivers , referred to as Direct Support Professionals, will go up to $13.95 this year, eventually gradually working the way up to $16 an hour. 

The uncertainty of when the state will follow through and implement the raise is leaving many organizations in limbo. 

"Everyday that we wait makes it harder for these organizations and by virtue of that it creates a level of uncertainty for DSPs  that may be deciding, 'do I want to stay in this position or do I want to go into that position' so we need to see this move forward." said Evans.