In light of the possibility of an increase in the minimun wage, the Care Campaign sent
the following letter to all members of the General Assembly.
Dear Representative or Senator:
As the Illinois General Assembly considers revenue measures to help put the state’s
fiscal house in order, we write to urge you to remember the 31,000 direct-support
personnel in community agencies to whom state government has delegated
responsibility for some 23,000 individuals with developmental disabilities. Because
these community disability agencies are funded by state government under the
Medicaid program, caregivers’ wages are largely determined by the actions of
elected officials. And because the state has not allocated funds for a Cost of Doing
Business Increase for these agencies since 2007, direct-support workers in Illinois
now earn wages below the poverty level.
A recent salary survey by the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities pegged
the average direct-support wage in Illinois at $9.35 per hour. That’s 21% below the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty threshold of $11.32 for a
family of four. As a result, this largely female workforce must work overtime or hold
down second jobs just to make ends meet. Many of these workers and their families
have to fall back on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps, creating
additional expenditures for state government.
Over the last 10 fiscal years, increases in state funding to community agencies have
averaged less than 1% per year, for a total of 9.5%. By contrast, the Consumer Price
Index increased 23% over the same period. Community agencies have been forced
to cover increases in health insurance, fuel, and other costs from the small rate
increases, while wages fell even further behind. Illinois ranks 41st of the 50 states in
fiscal effort for these services.
The lack of adequate wages for employees who perform the challenging work of
supporting individuals with disabilities results in high employee turnover, which in turn
negatively impacts the quality of services provided. National studies have
documented annual turnover rates among direct support staff of 35% to 70%. Higher
wages are proven to reduce staff turnover, improving stability and quality of services
while reducing employer training costs.
The Care Campaign —a historic collaboration of providers, associations, workers
and their unions, parents and family members, caregivers and people with
disabilities — proposes higher reimbursement rates linked directly to direct-support
staff wages. The goal is to increase those wages to $13 at minimum—a modest
increase for an individual worker, but significant for retaining a quality workforce to
serve those with disabilities, helping to reduce turnover and providing a more
consistent and supportive environment for those we serve. It will reduce reliance on
public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid while enhancing dignity and self-
worth for the thousands who annually go over and above every day of the year to
provide exceptional personal services to make life better for people with
Earlier this year, we gathered 18,000 signed postcards in support of a living wage for
direct-support workers and delivered them to Governor Quinn. Newspapers
editorialized in favor, from the Chicago area to Peoria and Springfield to Belleville.
“The plight of Illinois’ 31,000 direct support workers and the families they support —
both at work and at their own homes — is too important to continue overlooking.
They deserve a decent living wage,” the State Journal-Register wrote.
As you seek to shape a fiscal plan with sufficient revenue for services vital to Illinois
residents, we urge you to take into account the urgent need to preserve quality of
care for individuals with developmental disabilities, and to enable the workers who
support them to earn enough to support their own families. Providing funding in
this year’s budget to community disability agencies to allow for a wage increase of
at least $1 an hour for all direct-support workers will put Illinois on a path to a $13
hourly minimum wage for DSPs by 2016. It will also help to make sure that these
employees are fairly paid for providing the services so essential to so many.
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423