Essential workers are the backbone of our society, yet most are underpaid and underappreciated. While there are essential workers in many industries, this letter will discuss those involved in caregiving for Maine’s vulnerable populations. Direct Support Professionals, Home Health Aides, Behavioral Specialists, and other front line health care workers have been notoriously underpaid for years. They do skilled, demanding work, are required to maintain multiple certifications and work flexible hours around the clock to take care the elderly, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and others who require support through the MaineCare system. The challenge for these workers is that their rates are set by a formula that is fixed, so providers can’t increase wages and benefits to stay competitive in a free market, and workers are leaving the field in order to survive economically.
When agencies can’t recruit and retain enough qualified care workers, the downward spiral has a number of negative impacts. Staff on the front lines, both managers and DSP’s, are stressed physically and mentally in addition to economically. In addition to that, a lack of staffing means quality suffers and people in need remain on waitlists for services because agencies simply do not have the staffing. Imagine having a family member who needs 24/7 supports that are not available. How do you survive if you can’t work to make ends meet?
It’s time to value and invest in the tens of thousands of Maine workers who provide vital daily supports and services to older people, people with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, and people with behavioral health challenges, to ensure they thrive in their homes and community settings. Currently, the legislature is considering a bill, LD1573, which would raise rates for essential workers to 125% of minimum wage and include cost of living increases to keep up with inflation and other market functions.
Direct Support Professionals (DSP’s) and other essential workers are overworked and underpaid, a bad situation made worse by the COVID epidemic and rising costs of living. Agencies like LEAP, Care and Comfort and many others are struggling to retain the staff they have much less compete with Walmart and McDonalds who are paying higher wages for less skilled work. When DSP’s make a living wage with competitive benefits, society benefits in multiple ways which includes adequate and quality services to vulnerable populations and caregivers who are self sufficient and not dependent on ancillary state services.
Please contact your legislator and ask them to support LD1573. These essential workers are our friends and neighbors, some of the best people on earth. The people they support need these vital services and families on waitlists are stressed to survive. It’s time to invest in the people who take care of the people. IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
Executive Director, LEAP, Inc.