Frontline Initiative

Massachusetts' 1998 Budget and the DSP


Jay Jackson is program manager at Attleboro Enterprises, Inc., in Attleboro, Massachusetts

Before 1996, provider organizations working with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) received no increase in state funding for nine years. This appalling lack of funding left provider organizations little budgetary leeway for salary increases for direct support professionals. With the aggressive lobbying of several agencies – the Massachusetts Association of Community Organizations, Inc. (MACRO), Arc of Massachusetts, the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), the Massachusetts Council of Human Services Providers – and the support of Phil Campbell, the commissioner of the DMR, this situation changed. The fiscal year 1997 state budget included a four percent salary increase for direct care staff earning under $20,000 a year. The average salary for direct care staff statewide was $16,850, thus the majority of direct support professionals qualified for the increase. Unfortunately, as appreciated as this increase was, it still left their salaries low in comparison to their responsibilities.

With this in mind, provider organizations continued to lobby the legislature for more funds. One approach used was to educate the legislature about direct support services by telling the stories of direct support professionals and their activities and responsibilities. These efforts resulted in a new proposal for 1998. This year, the governor’s budget included a line item that read:

For a [15 million dollar] reserve [to be set aside] to provide salary increases for direct care employees and supervisory staff earning less than thirty thousand dollars in annual compensation [and who are] employed by private human service providers that deliver residential services under contract with departments within the executive Office of Health and Human Services.

While this was yet another step in the right direction, there’s still more to do. For instance, this language excludes all services provided outside residential sites. In addition, the 15 million dollar reserve still isn’t nearly enough to give all direct support professionals in Massachusetts the salary increases they deserve.

In response to these deficits, “Campaign for 26,855” (the number of people in Massachusetts who qualify to receive supports, but can’t get them because of budget restrictions), an umbrella group consisting of providers, advocates, and Department of Mental Retardation advisory board members, is continuing to appeal to the legislature. They’re asking the legislature to change the language in the line item to read, “direct care employees, supervisors, and support staff” and to include “providers that deliver services.” This will be more inclusive of the many direct support professionals working in the state.

In regard to the 15 million dollar reserve, “Campaign for 26,855” is seeking an increased figure. If the language were changed to include day service providers, the proposed reserve would barely cover Department of Mental Retardation contracts. There are 11,100 full-time equivalent positions in Massachusetts (8,000 residential and 3,100 day staff) paid less than $30,000 – and salaries for persons working under Department of Mental Retardation contracts average $19,100. In order to give Department of Mental Retardation workers earning under $30,000 a six percent increase in addition to mandatory payroll taxes and workers compensation, it would cost the commonwealth 14.6 million dollars. In order to accommodate contracts that aren’t affiliated with the Department of Mental Retardation, the reserve would have to be increased to 30 million dollars. Again, although this this increase would be very welcome, it would still fall short of inflation and cost of living rates.

Massachusetts’ governor, legislature, and provider community continue to struggle with ever decreasing funds and increasing need for service. The direct support professional is the person who must deliver the quality of care and support that individuals with disabilities need, desire, and deserve, and that the commonwealth of Massachusetts expects. The continuing struggle is to pay those direct support professionals a wage commensurate with the responsibilities of their jobs.