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Another Voice: Low pay hurts workers and people with disabilities

By Joseph and Sue Lanigan

Our daughter Katie is 32. She loves horseback riding, traveling, the Aktion Club (a service organization for persons with disabilities sponsored by Kiwanis), photography and volunteering at a veterinarian’s office. She also has Down syndrome, which means life for her will always be just a little more challenging.

While other people her age are pursuing careers and starting families, Katie is learning how to independently navigate public transportation and balance her checking account. As Katie’s peers are moving up the corporate ladders of their chosen professions, she is refining skills that ensure she can live as independently as possible. With support, Katie has become a confident, capable young woman, just not at the same pace as others. I also know that each milestone she meets is because of the strong team of direct support professionals from People Inc. who help guide and support her every step of the way.

Direct support professionals make it possible for people like Katie to live meaningful, productive lives. Yet while the reward of helping others is high for direct support professionals, their pay is often low. For all they do for others, I believe direct support professionals also deserve a pay increase to $15. Like all caregivers, direct support professionals deserve to make a wage that recognizes the importance of their work, instead of a wage that ensures they struggle at the economic poverty level.

Continued low pay will negatively impact not only the direct support professionals, but those in their care. It’s not uncommon for Katie to become attached to a direct support professional, only to have him or her leave for a higher-paying job. Katie is then left heartbroken, and fearful of trusting someone new. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you’re a person with disabilities.

But if direct support professionals do not receive a pay increase, this cycle of turnover may continue to increase. As other jobs receive higher wages, it’s only reasonable for employees to go where they can earn a better living.

Our governor and Legislature must step up to the plate and give direct support professionals their well-deserved pay increases. They must also provide the funding to agencies across the state to make this a reality. Human service providers have no way of controlling their funding, and this increase would only be possible through government funding.

As Katie gets older, we hope she enjoys long, meaningful relationships in her life, especially with those who support and care for her. Our dream is that Katie will continue to grow because of the support of those who’ve dedicated their careers to helping people with disabilities. In turn, we hope her staff members are paid fairly and are able to enjoy a comfortable living.

Joseph Lanigan, M.D., and Sue Lanigan live in East Aurora.