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Leading the Way on DSP Workforce: State Association Edition

by: 
Kim Opsahl, Director of State Partnerships and Special Projects

State Associations are key partners in ANCOR’s efforts to shape policy impacting the Direct Support Professional workforce. Beyond their assistance in federal advocacy efforts, their leadership at the state level is an essential factor in advancing policy across the country. In that work, many have found that working in coalition with other state-level stakeholders is an effective strategy in achieving successful outcomes. Here are three examples of this leadership in action:

#bFair2DirectCare – The #bFair2DirectCare Coalition was formed by 10 not-for-profit agencies in New York, including ANCOR State Association members Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State, Interagency Council of Developmental Agencies, Inc., and the New York Alliance for Innovation and Inclusion. Other coalition members include the Alliance of Long Island Agencies, the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of NY, Direct Support Professional Alliance of New York State, The Arc of New York, the Self Advocacy Association of New York, and the Statewide Advocacy Network of NY.

#bFair2DirectCare was formed following nearly eight years of stagnant funding to wage a statewide educational campaign to win funding for a living wage, phased in over six years. The campaign’s initial ask to the governor, senate, and assembly was to include $45 million in the 2017-18 NYS Budget to go towards the wages of DSPs. After a year of advocacy and education, the final budget included the requested appropriation which amounted to a two-year commitment to move toward a living wage. Learn more about their effort in this a recent Impact article.

They Deserve More – The They Deserve More Coalition includes 80 Illinois organizations (individuals and families, service providers, labor unions, etc), including ANCOR State Association members IARF and the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities. Jim Haptonstahl with ANCOR Member UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago also played a critical role in organizing and leading the coalition. The coalition was formed in 2017 to increase public and legislative awareness of Illinois’ workforce crisis and to ensure that persons with I/DD throughout Illinois get the services they deserve by fighting for better wages for the DSPs who serve and support them.

Through a combination of Coalition advocacy, legislative pressure, and a growing awareness of the issue in the Governor’s office, Illinois increased funding for DSP wages by $1.25/hr over the last two fiscal years. These increases followed nearly a decade of systemwide rate stagnation.   Understanding more work must be done on workforce compensation, the Coalition continues to advocate for increased compensation to enable DSP wages to be competitive with the private sector and move beyond a rising minimum wage in Chicago and Cook County.  To learn more about their efforts, check out the Coalition’s website at theydeservemore.com.

Coalition for Direct Support Professional Living Wage – The New Jersey Coalition for a DSP Living Wage is comprised of nearly 50 organizations led by a steering committee of eight statewide organizations including ANCOR State Association members the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and the New Jersey Association of Community Providers, along with the Arc of New Jersey. The Coalition also includes over 1,000 individual and family members.

Focused on moving DSP wages to a living wage, the Coalition is advocating for incremental increases ($1.25/year) over a five-year period to bring the starting wage to a living wage standard by 2022. In their first year, the Coalition secured a one-time sum of $20 million – while not the hoped-for wage increase, the Coalition viewed the investment as a critical first step in raising awareness among policymakers for the need for a long-term investment. This year, the Coalition’s collaborative advocacy efforts resulted in a $20 million increase for DSP wages, the second highest funding award in the State’s budget. The Coalition is continuing its advocacy with their Department of Human Services to recalculate the rates to include the newly appropriated funds. To learn more about their efforts check out their website at www.njdspcoalition.org.

Kim Opsahl is ANCOR's Director of State Partnerships and Special Projects. She can be reached at kopsahl@ancor.org.