New Jersey budget season is upon us. Governor Phil Murphy is set to deliver his first address on the financial status of the state, which will be followed by weeks of legislative hearings, meetings, and negotiations before the budget is finalized by end of June. As this process unfolds, I am hopeful the governor and Legislature stay true to their promise, to create a stronger and fairer economy by investing in the direct support workforce that enables more than 30,000 New Jersey residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to live successfully in communities across the Garden State.
Direct support professionals are the backbone of publicly funded long-term supports and services that allow individuals with I/DD to live as independently as possible in community-settings. Their work is complex, requiring skill and training to meet the medical, personal and behavioral needs of the people they support. Tragically, lack of government investment has left DSP wages stagnant for nearly a decade. At a starting rate of just $10.50 an hour, far too many caring people who want to dedicate their lives to serving others simply cannot afford to consider direct service work as a viable employment option.
In a recent survey of DSPs in NJ, over 90 percent noted low wages as their greatest workforce challenge. Therefore, it is no surprise that low wages are forcing many DSPs to work multiple jobs or receive public assistance just to make ends meet. Equally troubling, the lack of compensation is contributing to an astounding 44 percent turnover rate that is interfering with the continuity of care that individuals with I/DD need to feel safe and secure.
The revolving door of DSPs wreaks havoc with New Jersey providers. High turnover results in increased overtime costs, increased stress and burnout, safety risks, increased training costs, poor morale, the list goes on and on. It’s also taking a financial toll on family members who may be forced to miss work to care for their loved one, let alone the emotional stress of dealing with ever changing staff.
The time is long overdue for New Jersey policymakers to stabilize the DSP workforce by bringing wages in line with the responsibilities and demands of the job. To start, Governor Murphy and the Legislature should appropriate funding in the FY2019 State Budget to raise DSP wages by $1.25 per hour. A stronger and fairer economy in New Jersey is one where all residents can participate, including individuals with I/DD and the dedicated professionals who support them. Moving toward a DSP Living Wage in FY2019 is a step toward making it happen.
Ewing, March 10
The writer is CEO of the New Jersey Association of Community Providers.
Published in NorthJersey.com March 12, 2018