Frontline Initiative Legislative Advocacy

Agency Perspective:
Public Support Needed for DSPs


Tony Thomas is the Ohio liaison for the NADSP.

Tony Thomas, the Ohio Liaison for the NADSP, gave companion testimony to Mary Winchell’s testimony. Tony’s testimony highlights the importance of legislative action supporting direct support professionals, giving an agency perspective.

March 8, 2001 Testimony of Tony Thomas

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Tony Thomas. I am the Executive Director of Welcome House in Cleveland, Ohio. We are a provider of services to individuals with Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD), serving over 100 persons with disabilities in the Cleveland area. The services we provide include habilitative services to persons residing in group home settings, supported living services to person residing in apartments, and in-home support services to persons still living with family.

I am here today as the Ohio liaison to the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP). This is a national effort including members and organizations that represent individuals, families, providers, government and others to mention a few. This national group has the support of the leading disability organizations including —

  • Self advocates • American Network of Community Options & Resources (ANCOR)
  • National Organization of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services
  • American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR)
  • The Arc
  • United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)
  • President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (PCMR)
  • Several university-affiliated training programs that specialize in services to individuals and issues related to MR/DD
  • Center on Residential Services and Community Living • Council for Standards in Human Services Education
  • Representatives of State Departments of MR/DD
  • Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation facilities (CARF)
  • Association for Persons in Supported Employment
  • Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
  • And many others.

In Ohio, we are pleased to have a statewide effort (the Ohio Alliance of Direct Support Professionals) with many of the same kinds of individuals and groups represented; including individuals, families, the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, ARC, OPRA, County Boards of MR/DD, and others. While I am here today to talk to you about the importance of direct care wages and stabilizing the workforce, I want you to be aware of the depth and the breadth of work that is underway nationally and here in Ohio.

The availability of staffing to serve individuals with MR/DD is a complicated problem that can’t be solved with a single or uniform solution. Across the nation, and here in Ohio, there are a variety of efforts to address the problem in a variety of ways. The National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, including the Ohio Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, is working on a range of efforts related to training, ethics, supervisory issues, research into the problems of recruitment and retention, and more.

For today, I want to focus on the issue of direct care wages and the need to stabilize the workforce. We cannot think anymore about expanding services to persons with MR/DD without thinking about the implications of where we will find the staff to support such an effort. In the past we have said it is essential to expand services to persons with MR/DD by creating more community living options and helping people achieve and experience community living. Without a suitable and more appropriately compensated workforce and expansion efforts will be severely compromised. 

Attached to my testimony is a summary of information from other states. The issue of direct care staffing and wages is reaching crisis proportions in many states across the country. Legislatures and state government officials are taking action to address the wage issues. I’d like to highlight a few examples —

  • Arizona providers are experiencing turnover rates of 70 to 150%. Litigation is pending.
  • District of Columbia: Deputy Mayor announced proposed legislation for wage increases for direct care workers.
  • Illinois: Governor Ryan pledged his support for wage legislation that will be introduced as a supplemental appropriation.
  • Maine: Key legislative leaders have sponsored legislation to provide a 4% increase in wages. • California has litigation pending which alleges that the disparity between institutional and community-based service providers is a violation of the ADA.
  • Maryland: Legislation will close the gap between state institution wages and community wages over a three-year phase in.
  • In Massachusetts, the legislature provided a 3% increase and has introduced legislation to provide a wage of no less than $12.89 an hour without health insurance and $11.89 with health insurance.
  • Montana: The Governor’s budget includes a direct care wage increase of 4.65% and 9.28% for FY ’02 & ’03 respectively.
  • Nebraska: The Governor recommended an additional $7.3 million dollars for wages
  • The New Jersey legislature authorized a $1 per hour increase for a cost of $56 million dollars.
  • New Mexico received an $11 million dollar increase, with a target wage of $10 per hour for direct care wages.
  • New York: Governor Pataki is proposing a 3.52% increase for the community service waiver providers.
  • Pennsylvania: The Governor announced an increase of $41.3 Million for recruitment and retention; in addition to 2% cost of living increase.
  • Washington State: Legislation is being considered to increase wages $1 per hour.
  • The Wisconsin legislature provided $8.3 million in funding for direct support staff salaries. 

In closing, safety and well-being cannot be assured if there is no one there to assist individuals or if there is so much turnover that the staff never truly understand the individuals’ needs. States across the country are addressing the issue of direct support staff wages for individuals receiving MR/DD services. We need your leadership and support to do the same. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I would be glad to respond to any questions you have.