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Another Voice: Direct service professionals deserve higher pay

By Max and Joyce Donatelli

We are loving parents of a young man, Craig, who has Down syndrome. Help us understand how messed up our societal values seem today?

Why is it collectively we devalue the people who are charged with supporting individuals with developmental disabilities? Typically called direct service professionals, these folks usually work for not-for-profit agencies starting at close to minimum wage.

Most have awesome responsibilities that can include feeding, personal care including toileting, and personal hygiene, safety and the overall quality of life. They are responsible for human beings that are dependent in a variety of ways – where some are fairly independent, others require intense 24/7 care, and everywhere in between.

Compare this to other jobs in our community that are much less demanding but also close to the minimum wage. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to raise the minimum wage, which on the surface is an admirable thing to do, especially in light of some of the obscenely high salaries of too many executives and sports professionals.

However, raising the minimum wage without fairly compensating the direct service professionals, which rely on governmental funds, places these valuable jobs at a distinct disadvantage. How in the world do you recruit and retain the best people to provide for dependent human beings with a wage that will lag behind these others? Agencies across the state are in a hiring crisis now; what will the $15-per-hour impact be? How will agencies convince candidates to choose this as a career path?

Recognizing the value that these human services workers provide with a living wage is not asking too much. They should not be forced to choose better-paying careers or work two or three jobs to support their families – if they are best suited to be in the human services field. If we as a society value human life, it isn't right to put these direct service professionals at such a disadvantage.

Our governor and Legislature need to ensure a competitive wage so we can have the best qualified and committed people in these positions and/or explore other ways to compensate these valuable people.

Will our state government do the right thing and treat them fairly? We pray they will. The future of our son, and others who depend on these special people, is at stake.

Max and Joyce Donateli, of Hamburg, are family advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.

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