A rally is held at City Hall in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 across Maryland. (Kennth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Arc Baltimore is one of the largest providers of services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Maryland, on a daily basis impacting the lives of over 1,400 Marylanders who live and work in Baltimore and Baltimore County. We are the 52nd largest employer in the Baltimore area, employing close to 1,000 individuals, 75 percent of whom are what we call direct support professionals.
What we can pay our direct support staff depends on what the state reimburses us for the services we provide. Unlike other businesses, Medicaid providers can’t pass cost increases on to the people we serve. As a result of historically low reimbursement rates, we are experiencing a workforce crisis with high staff vacancies and turnover that averages 46 percent.
Direct support staff are central to our mission, and when they leave it greatly affects the experience of someone with a disability. They experience the loss of a staff person and frequent introduction of someone new to perform important and sometimes intimate supports, at times including bathing and self-care.
Direct support jobs are challenging and require an extreme level of diligence and responsibility. In many cases, people’s lives are literally in their hands. A job seeker chooses between the enormous responsibility of this work for slightly above minimum wage, compared to a position stocking shelves, greeting shoppers or fulfilling online orders for a higher wage. We vie for staff with employers such as Amazon and Walmart and frankly, it’s hard to compete.
The Fight for $15 legislation recognizes the importance of a higher wage for all Marylanders but also acknowledges the unique situation of the disability community (“Minimum wage increase moves forward in Maryland General Assembly but pace of rise is slowed,” Feb. 25). We fully support the bill and we urge legislators to ensure that the funding mandate included in the legislation for developmental disability services remains in the bill as it moves forward. We are counting on our elected leaders to do the right thing to help us address this crisis in Maryland’s support system for people with disabilities.
Kathleen M. Durkin, Towson
The writer is executive director of The Arc Baltimore.