Many testified to support a bill to increase pay for workers who assist people with disabilities

Photo of Councilmember Brianne Nadeau leading a public hearing on the Direct Support Professional Payment Rate Act of 2019

Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Vincent Gray lead a public hearing on the Direct Support Professional Payment Rate Act of 2019 last week. Photo by Leah Potter

A bill that would increase wages for professionals who work with people with disabilities was met with overwhelming support at a public hearing last week.

The bill – the Direct Support Professional Payment Rate Act of 2019 – was introduced in March by councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Vincent Gray, David Grosso and Elissa Silverman. The bill calls for an annual payment, which would compensate them more than their current income, to direct support professionals – people who provide assistance to people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The legislation would also require the directors of the Department of Health Care Finance and the Department on Disability Services to “consider certain factors” when deciding the amount of payment, according to a legislative summary on the D.C. council’s website.

The June 13 public hearing drew in about 50 people who testified as public witnesses in support of the bill.

Esme Grewal, the vice president of government relations for the American Network of Community Options and Resources, said in the hearing that she is in support of the bill because it could help address the “enormous turnover rate” and provide more-stable care for people with disabilities.

Nationally, the average turnover rate for direct support professionals is about 45 percent, according to a report submitted to President Trump on the direct support workforce crisis in the United States.

“D.C. can lead on it, you can be the leader to solve this and this bill is the right way to go,” Grewal said.

Susan Brooks, the operations manager for RCM of Washington – an organization that provides services to people with disabilities – who testified at the hearing, said working as a direct support professional is “not a minimum wage job.” She said direct support professionals administer medication, monitor procedures, follow meal-time protocols, help people be included in their communities, and help people who don’t speak with words have a voice.

“This is an expansive amount of essential skills that we are expecting from one person,” she explained.

Brooks said direct support professionals should not have to work two or three different jobs to support themselves because the pay isn’t substantial. She added that the profession also needs higher wages in order to attract new workers to better support people with disabilities.

“Why would a person who isn’t familiar with this work want to take on a job with this amount of responsibility when they could stock shelves at Target for the same pay or more?” she said.

Photo of a panel of public witnesses at the public hearing last week
About 50 people testified in favor of the proposed bill. Right to left: Esme Grewal, Susan Brooks, Bethany Winston and Aaron Loggins. Photo by Leah Potter

Aaron Loggins, who works as a direct support professional, said he is proud of the work he does supporting people with disabilities. He aid direct support professionals are invaluable because they assist with essential activities, like bathing, showering, dressing, reading, and preparing meals.

“I strongly support this bill, it will make it fair to all of us, to all direct support professionals and people with disabilities in general,” Loggins said.

Bethany Winston, a client of direct support professional services who testified at the hearing, said she gets the chance to eat at restaurants, see movies and concerts, and invite friends to her home because of the assistance from her support staff.

“They are very important to me,” Winston said. “They help me to do things I can’t do for myself. They teach me how to do things so I can become more independent.”

Winston said direct support professionals will leave their positions if they don’t “get enough pay.” She said it takes time to get to know and trust new staff, which is difficult when there is high turnover within a position.

“Good staff don’t just help you, they become your friends. Good staff is like the family,” Winston said.

A second public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, June 26, where the council will invite people to provide additional testimonies.

Issues |Disability|Jobs

Region |Washington DC

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