Nonprofit View: Don't forget direct support professionals during minimum wage debate

As the discussion for a higher minimum wage for Marylanders is being debated in Maryland’s legislature, there is a group of people that cannot be left behind.

Many of the people that provide state-funded services to Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens, people with disabilities are at risk of becoming minimum wage employees. It would be devastating if Maryland raised its minimum wage and organizations that rely on state funding were not included in an appropriate rate increase.


Direct support professionals that are employed by organizations like The Arc Carroll County, Change, Inc, Flying Colors of Success and Target provide a high level of quality care to people that desperately need support. The work performed by these professionals is demanding and require considerable training.

Most agencies require a new staff member receive over 20 courses to assure that people receive services that are appropriate to their needs. These trainings include medication administration, behavior support training, CPR/1st Aid and driver safety to name a few.

Sadly, most agencies report high levels of turnover, difficulty in finding people that want to do this kind of work, and staff who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. For example, most agencies can only afford to pay their staff members $11-$13 per hour. In 2004, the state reimbursement for direct support was 69 percent above minimum wage. Today, that number has decreased to just over 20 percent. If minimum wage is raised to $15 per hour, most agencies will have difficulty paying their direct support professionals that rate.

The impact of having direct support professionals become minimum wage employees will be devastating to organizations that are trying their best to provide meaningful support to individuals. It will also be insulting to direct support professionals.

Minimum wage is often equated with a starting wage for unskilled labor, the work that direct support professionals do everyday is not that, nor do we want to send that message. The fear is that many will not be served as agencies cut back or eliminate services to people that desperately need our support.

If organizations that serve people with disabilities are not included or funded appropriately, the statement will be loud and clear. There are many sides to this complex issue and whether you are for or against raising the minimum wage is one of personal choice.

Our hope is that if the minimum wage passes, people with disabilities and the organizations that provide their services are included. We are fighting for our lives and the lives of people who oftentimes cannot voice their opinion.

It has been said that societies can be defined by how well they care and support those who are most vulnerable. Now is the time to answer that question and make everyone proud who has chosen to call Maryland their home. I hope you agree that a higher minimum wage needs to include people with disabilities and the organizations that support them