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State should increase funding for disability services

As a person who has worked my entire adult life with people with disabilities — in group homes, day programs, 22 years as an adult foster care provider, and in my current position as a regional director for Lutheran Social Service, I know that the work of direct care staff is personally rewarding, but very demanding, and unfortunately, very low paying. Many staff that work in this field take on other jobs to make ends meet, and worse, leave the profession altogether, creating a great deal of instability in the lives of the people we support. After years of state budget cuts, it is time to increase funding and make disability services a high priority for the 2014 Legislature.

The staff that work in these homes are required to do much and to wear many hats. Regularly, a direct care staff serves as a driver, cook, maid, counselor, cheerleader, hair stylist, coach, handyman, seamstress, nurse, teacher and friend. The staff allows people with disabilities to live and work in our community with dignity and hope. With the assistance of these staff, people with disabilities can take on job opportunities, participate in community events, worship where they chose and join service clubs to give back to the community. These homes are staffed 24/7 requiring staff to work weekends and overnights, often missing out on holidays with their own families. Yet, these highly skilled, dedicated and wonderful staff are paid on average about $10 an hour.

I am asking our governor and local legislators to support with the 5 percent campaign and provide a 5 percent rate increase to home- and community-based services. With our state’s economic forecast much improved from recent years, now is the perfect time to evaluate how services for people with disabilities is funded. A small, 5 percent increase will help ensure quality and consistency in our service delivery and would be a great start in recognizing how important these direct care staff are to our community.

Al Pederson