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Higher minimum wage prompts demand from social service providers

Thursday, Jun 6, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller


Gov. JB Pritzker’s $40 billion budget—passed with bipartisan support—includes a 3.5% rate increase for state-funded community disability agencies and a 5% increase for youth care agencies.

In an extraordinarily challenging time, AFSCME members succeeded in sharing their story and fighting for continued progress for the adults and youth they serve every day. Hundreds of frontline staff at state-funded agencies lobbied their legislators in their home districts and at the State Capitol. They spoke directly to the governor’s office and delivered thousands of postcards to his door.

“We are one step closer to a fair wage for DSPs, paraeducators and other frontline staff at disability and youth care agencies across the state,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch.

* But this is from Kathy Carmody, CEO of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities…

While the FY20 rate increase for community agencies that support people with disabilities is welcome, it’s not enough to impact the workforce crisis affecting agencies that provide community services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that is in full swing across the state. The crisis is one of the key reasons Illinois has been found out of compliance with a Consent Decree overseen by a federal court appointed Monitor for the 3rd year in a row.

Similar to your observation regarding the DCFS budget, consider that when the community residential (CILA) program began in 2000, reimbursement from the state for the average wage (meaning everyone from a first day employee to a 20 year veteran) for direct support workers was 93% higher than minimum wage. This differential was essential and intentional in recognition of the critical role this workforce plays and the distinction between direct support work and minimum wage positions. Today, that differential is only 45%, with agencies in Chicago receiving reimbursement that only matches minimum wage and will fall below minimum wage on 7/1/19. Once minimum wage is increased in 2020, the differential between minimum wage and reimbursement from the state for direct support workers will fall to only 24%; agencies simply cannot compete with other industries that pay far better for far less challenging work.

Illinois ranks 47th lowest in the country for funding community services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; a once-in-20 years 3.5% increase isn’t going to move the needle on the crisis impacting community agencies serving people with disabilities.

One reason reimbursement was so much higher than the minimum wage back then was that the minimum wage was lower than it is now. Click here for a chart.

* From the They Deserve More Coalition…

“These are not minimum wage jobs, caring for people with disabilities,” said Ben Stortz, president and CEO of Cornerstone Services. “It is strenuous work with long hours where you are responsible for someone’s life and wellbeing. Wages were already deplorably low, and now the good work done by state leaders for the rest of Illinois workers will unwittingly exacerbate the staffing crisis for people with disabilities as more and more DSPs leave for Amazon or Walmart or $15-an-hour fast food jobs.”

With so many DSPs reluctantly leaving for other opportunities with higher pay, people with disabilities and their families face constant change and uncertainty. Insufficient staffing can lead to dangerous, even life-threatening situations. More and more providers are forced to shut down programs and turn people away who need and deserve support.

“We are glad to get a very small piece of this year’s budget and greatly appreciate those legislators who have championed our cause in recent years,” said Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association. “But we are so far behind, and the minimum wage legislation – which is important for many – has the unintended consequence of leaving us in more dire straits than ever. We hope and pray that our budgeteers will take this into account as they look at new revenue coming in, and we will not stop pressing until our state leaders make people with disabilities a priority.”

The argument is they need to pay people more than the minimum wage because the jobs are so difficult and recruitment and retention suffers if they can’t offer premiums above the minimum. But what happens when the minimum wage is more like a livable wage? If these groups don’t get any more money, we’ll probably find out.


  1. - Steve - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    Why not just raise taxes? Isn’t that always the solution?

  2. - NeveroddoreveN - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:29 pm:

    I am a strong supporter of inclusion of persons with developmental disabilities into the workforce. Since the minimum wage bill require that businesses pay individuals with disabilities the same rate, the problem is exacerbated as job coaches and their students will potentially make the same wage.

  3. - Barrington - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:35 pm:

    Fully support paying staff and caretakers more. Their jobs are more difficult than most jobs that pay minimum wage.

  4. - Try-4-Truth - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    As and ED of a mid-sized social service agency, I can tell you that the increase in the minimum wage is a HUGE issue. I have case workers making $15.50 now. They will probably need an increase too.

    I have estimated that this increase in the minimum wage will cost my agency about $250,000 per year.

  5. - Mark - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    It is incredibly important to fund the people that work with people with disabilities. They Deserve More- they work with a challenging population doing a hard job. The state has really dropped the ball here with the lack of funding to support this critical need.

  6. - Not a Russian Bot - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    @ Steve. Raising taxes is not always the option. For example, Governor Pritzker is proposing a graduated income tax that will *lower* taxes on most residents of Illinois. Pretty cool, right?

  7. - Fav human - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:50 pm:

    Min wage in 2000 was 5.25. so 11/hr was their avg. Wage, which is about 22k a year. Avg. Income in il was 46k, so that was 50%.

    Now it’s 64.5k. half of that is 32k. Translating that into hourly wage is 15.38/hr.

  8. - Fav human - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    The above is a rough calculation but it should be in the ballpark.

  9. - Steve - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    - Not a Russian Bot -

    That gas tax increase might eat that income tax cut for many workers. So, the answer in Illinois is raise the taxes. Obligations have to be met. Yeah, the standard of living might be going down for many but it’s not like enough people care.

  10. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    ===That gas tax increase might eat that income tax cut for many workers===

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  11. - njt - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:13 pm:

    ===Yeah, the standard of living might be going down for many but it’s not like enough people care.===

    Ok, so we’ll cut taxes and then increase these reimbursements how exactly?

  12. - Cubs in '16 - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:27 pm:

    ===Ok, so we’ll cut taxes and then increase these reimbursements how exactly?===

    Steve and like-minded people aren’t particularly concerned about the latter.

  13. - Proud Papa Bear - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:41 pm:

    I was a DSP as my first post-college job and rose into middle management. I left after 11 years because I couldn’t reasonably support my family on what I made. Year after year we never got a raise.
    I’m still friends with folks I used to work with. Nothing has changed, morale is low, turnover is high, and many of those who do stay in the field only do so because they don’t believe their skills and experience would be attractive to the business world or they are hopeless saints.

  14. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    The real comparison point needs to be what state workers are making for essentially the same job. the entire system of community pay rates is based on a flawed federal waiver rule that community services need to cost less than or are equal to institutional costs. the state has always interpreted this to mean less than so community providers not only can’t pay as much they can’t offer competitive benefit packages. the state has built it’s system of community care for the DD population on the backs of severely underfunded staff which has led to higher than typical staff turnover. Not a good thing for people who thrive on consistency in their supports. This is really a big deal.

  15. - yinn - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:44 pm:

    Not to nitpick, but CILAs were around by the early 90s. At the time, I was managing a CLF of 17 residents, and a couple of the people who lived there “graduated” to the smaller group homes called CILAs. Concurrently, the state discovered that a large proportion of people residing in mental institutions actually just had autism, and began working to transition them out into CILAs; also, families that sued to get their loved ones out of other improper “warehouse” settings, such as nursing homes, won CILA funding as well.

    The trend to help people move out of institutional settings with specialized staff led to clients in CILAs with a wider range of needs and the necessity for (sometimes skeleton crews) of generalists to meet them. Today’s front-line CILA workers have to be ready for anything, and it’s a shame they have always gotten paid so poorly.

    CLF: Community Living Facility. An older model group home, there are fewer than a dozen still licensed in the state.

    CILA: Community Integrated Living Arrangement. This is a group home with a limit of 8 people living in one home.

  16. - Da Lobsta - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    Whoops. Wrong post. Disregard the above.

  17. - center right - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 1:58 pm:

    “we are one step closer to a fair wage for DSPs…” perhaps, but when we’ve got miles to go, a step hardly seems like something to celebrate. And reimbursing Chicago area agencies at a rate below minimum wage - How is this even legal???

  18. - Zack Morris - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 3:02 pm:

    Rich, we do know what will happen. See link. If past is prologue…

  19. - BobO - Thursday, Jun 6, 19 @ 3:25 pm:

    Illinois has a waiting list of individuals seeking residential, day and employment support support services that now exceeds 50,000.

    This backlog can be directly attributed to under-funding of the disability system over the past 20 years.

    Our 47th in the nation reimbursement rate means that established organizations cannot hire sufficient staff to meet the current need, let alone expand to serve any of the 50,000.

    Unless rates are significantly improved, Illinois’ move to a $15/hour minimum, while important, will exacerbate the shortage of qualified staff in the disability field and grow the waiting list to astronomical levels.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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