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Support caregivers who work with the disabled [Letter]

Melwood applauds Sen. Thomas M. Middleton's efforts to increase pay for caregivers who directly support people with disabilities ("Fairness for caregivers," March 20).

Based in Upper Marlboro, Melwood is one of the largest employers of people with differing abilities in Maryland, providing more than 760 dedicated workers with good jobs and direct supports. In the Baltimore area, Melwood employs more than 100 people at the U.S. Coast Guard's Curtis Bay facility and at Fort Meade.

Our workers earn on average $12.43 per hour. So if we were to pay our direct support professionals (some of whom act as advocates for our workers at those sites) only what the state's allowance provides, they would earn on average $2 less than the people they work so hard to mentor on the job and beyond.

That is why Melwood has historically paid above the minimum wage not only to the people with differing abilities we support but also to the people who work to ensure that those employees are integrated into their work environments.

However, under the current minimum wage bill's structure, the more than 150 direct support professionals we employ would now earn nearly the same amount as an entry-level employee with low skills and very little professional experience.

We agree with Senator Middleton that this presents a major problem, because the people in those positions are not performing entry-level work. They complete 40 hours of specialized training and have to pass a rigorous background check prior to employment. They are the eyes, ears and sometimes the voice for a population that needs and deserves specialized work supports.

For decades Melwood has had documented success with this employment model and continues to develop new business opportunities to further its mission. We support Mr. Middleton's efforts to increase the state reimbursements for workers who care for people with differing abilities and we encourage Gov. Martin O'Malley to make adjustments to the state reimbursement policy so all organizations are able to provide adequate pay for such an important job.

Cari DeSantis, Upper Marlboro

The writer is CEO of Melwood, a nonprofit organization that creates jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities.

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