Rhode Island State House

Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) have introduced legislation (2017-S 0471 / 2017-H 5839) that would urge the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (DBHDDH) and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to increase the base wages for direct and home care workers who service the developmentally disabled community.

“The minimum wage has increased by 30 percent since 2012, but the rate paid to these essential direct care providers has remained stagnant.  The pay is now barely more than minimum wage, which is having a detrimental effect on staff retention, training costs, and, as a result, quality of care,” said Senator DiPalma.  “The facts and data show that our direct care workers love their jobs and want to stay in the field. They genuinely care about the population they serve. Yet, 62 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated that low salary was a factor that may make them leave their jobs. We need to act to address this urgent situation.”

“With Massachusetts set to pay their direct and home care workers $15 an hour next year, it is imperative that Rhode Island lets its workers know that wage increases are coming so that we do not lose these vital workers across the border.  Increasing wages to these essential workers addresses a crucial part of our state’s wage inequity problem, and helps improve services for the individuals that they serve. At the same time, we need to continue to review the processes for compensating all those direct care workers who serve our children, homebound elderly, and individuals with disabilities through other types of provider agencies.  These compassionate and hard-working individuals who care for our most vulnerable populations should not be teetering on the verge of poverty,” said Representative Tanzi.

The lack of adequate wages for direct and home care employees who perform the challenging work of supporting persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities results in high employee turnover, which estimated at 33 percent in Rhode Island.  Higher wages are proven to reduce staff turnover, improving stability and quality of services while reducing employer training costs.

In addition, as the state’s Medicaid program seeks to assist more beneficiaries requiring long-term services and supports in home and community-based settings, the demand for home care workers has increased, and wages for these workers has not kept pace with neighboring states, leading to high turnover and vacancy rates in the state’s home care industry.

The legislation calls for DBHDDH and EOHHS to provide a one-time increase, effective October 1, 2017, of the base-payment rates for licensed developmental disability organizations that would be determined through the state’s budgeting process.  The bills also call for both offices to increase base-payment rates so that direct and home care workers’ wages would reach $15 over the coming years.  Senator DiPalma’s bill calls for this increase to be reached by 2022 and Representative Tanzi’s proposal would reach $15 by 2020.  The rate would be adjusted annually by a percentage increase equal to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) or a successor index as calculated for the northeast region by the US Department of Labor.

Senator DiPalma’s bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and Representative Tanzi’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Finance.

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