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What other newspapers are saying: Home workers caring for people with disabilities need support

Everyone’s dealing with something during this pandemic, but thousands of parents caring for children with physical or intellectual disabilities are facing a catastrophic crisis. They can’t get help to take care of their families at a time when they need it most.

Thousands of families can’t find people willing to accept the meager wages the state pays workers who come into homes to support people with disabilities. If you think Walmart, Amazon or McDonalds can’t find workers, the situation is doubly dire for families who depend on “direct support professionals,” or DSPs, to help them care for their children.

Gary Blumenthal, vice president of government relations and advocacy for InVision Human Services, says up to 80 percent of DSPs quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, unwilling to face the risks of catching the virus for $14 an hour.

Most DSPS are employed by nonprofits and are paid under the state Medicaid program, matched by federal dollars. But the DSPs non-profits employ are paid less than those who provide similar service to people in state facilities. These days, they can make more flipping burgers or selling cosmetics at a department store.

The job of a DSP is physically and mentally arduous. They often feed, bathe and care for kids and adults who can’t care for themselves. It’s hard work, and it takes people who are dedicated, caring and compassionate.

Families of people with disabilities are pleading with Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature to help. They are asking them to work together to raise the wages of the DSPs. We are, too.

Nancy Murray, mother of three adult children with intellectual disabilities, calls for Wolf, to pay DSPs the same wages it pays state employees.

That seems reasonable. That seems rational. That seems mandatory during times like these.

Murray also is president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and senior vice president of Achieva, an organization serving people with disabilities. She and other disability advocates say the intellectual disability system needs $541 million to stop its collapse. But they fear Wolf’s proposed budget will offer $141 less than what is needed.

Murray and others argue President Joe Biden has targeted money in the American Recovery Act specifically to help such families. The governor and the legislature must allocate those funds where they are needed most and where the president intended them to be used.

Advocates for people with disabilities say the whole system is on the verge of collapse, and they fear many people will suffer and some will die unless Gov. Wolf and the legislature act now to increase wages and help desperate families.

Consider this: thousands of parents may have to stop working permanently and rely on state welfare if they can’t get help in their homes. Even those with means to augment salaries of DSPs are forbidden to do so, as it would somehow represent Medicaid fraud. Families are being left without any options to protect those they love.

Unless we find a solution to this crisis, we all will suffer.

State institutions will have to care for thousands of children and adults now being care for at home. Or thousands of people who could be working will turn to state welfare to help them take care of their families.

It makes both financial and moral sense to help these families by ensuring they get the help they need inside their homes as soon as possible.

Gov. Wolf has proven throughout his tenure he has a compassionate heart. He’s shown courage during the COVID-19 pandemic by braving political opposition to protect the people. Now, he needs to show the same courage and compassion to help the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Gov. Wolf can help families caring for people with disabilities by increasing wages for DSPs in the state’s 2022 budget to the levels of workers employed in state institutions.

We urge Gov. Wolf to at least meet with advocates for people with disabilities and listen to their arguments. And we urge any caring legislators to do the same.

This is not politics. This is real. Lives are on the line. Thousands of families will continue to suffer unless the governor and the state act, and act now.

— Patriot News of Harrisburg

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