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Caring For Those Who Care For Others

By Brenda Werth, Senior Director of Disability Services

Volunteers of America Western Washington

When I started as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) 15 years ago with VOA, I was given the opportunity to work with clients who had disabilities, and completely fell in love with it. And, there’s no way I could’ve survived on the salary on my own.

I lived with roommates at the time to make ends meet. And many of the 220 DSPs here at VOA live with roommates, have more than one job, or switch off shifts with their spouse so that one can take care of kids. March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness month, and it’s important that we take time to shine a light on the low wages in the Supported Living field, which leads to high levels of turnover and in our team of professional who care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

As Senior Director of the VOAWW’s Disability Services department, I see the cost of turnover every day. We serve 74 adults with disabilities in 35 homes throughout King, Snohomish and Skagit counties, fostering independence, building relationships and enhancing self-esteem to help our clients live meaningful lives. We work hard to empower and retain our staff, but still lose about a third each year. We track better than the Washington State average, where our colleagues in the field of Supported Living over lose over half their staff annually.

According to the Community Residential Services Association (CRSA), which advocates for people with disabilities, “Providers are losing valued employees to Home Care, State Operated programs and fast food and other industries that can pay a livable wage. Funding is needed to address the staffing crisis in Supported Living and take steps to stabilize this vital community resource.”

As the minimum wage has risen, State funding for DSPs hasn’t kept pace. Here at VOA, our average DSPs in Snohomish and Skagit Counties make $15.50 an hour. For full-time DSPs, this generates a gross annual salary of $32,240. For comparison, the 2020 ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) commissioned by United Way found that a family of four must earn a minimum of $72,600 to afford basic living expenses in Washington State. The math just doesn’t work.

If we care about all members of our community and seek to provide fulfilling lives to those who need us the most, we must increase the funding for Supported Living professionals. To help us reduce turnover and take better care of our clients, contact your State Legislator and ask that they support CRSA’s 2020 Supplemental Budget Request, which asks for a 5.4% Vendor Rate increase to stay ahead of the minimum wage increase in January 2021 and comply with the new state overtime salary threshold.

Here at VOA, 100% of the funding for our Direct Support Professional team comes from our State contract. During this legislative session, please help us take care of those who care for others.

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