By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
With the governor and legislators pushing for an increase in Maryland’s state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, advocates of people with disabilities want to make sure their paid caregivers get higher wages, since the state now only reimburses them at $9.82 an hour.
Thursday, these advocates came out to support legislation by Senate Finance Chairman Thomas Mac Middleton, D-Charles, that would guarantee those providers higher pay. His committee is also handling the bills to raise the statewide minimum wage.
Middleton’s bill, SB 890, dictates that caregivers of individuals with developmental and physical disabilities, as well as community mental health service providers, be paid an hourly rate 50% higher than state’s minimum wage.
At Maryland’s current minimum wage of $7.25, caregivers would be compensated at $10.88 per hour, about a dollar more than the Developmental Disabilities Administration currently provides them — $9.82.
If the General Assembly approves a minimum wage increase of $10.10, providers would have to be paid $15.15 an hour.
Another bill sponsored by Middleton, SB 905, heard by the committee Thursday forces the counties that raise the minimum wage beyond the state requirement to supplement funds that would ensure that care providers are still paid 50% above that figure.
For instance, Montgomery County voted in November to boost its hourly rate to $11.50 by 2017, and would have to supplement state funds to pay caregivers $17.25 an hour.
Supporters offered emotional testimony
Whitney Ellenby, a former attorney from Montgomery County, spoke about how she was terrified for her 12-year-old autistic son.
“My only hope for my son to have a life, to have a recreation, to have a job, to be safe, to have a place to live after I die, is with direct service providers,” Ellenby said.
Ellenby said she fears that if the bill is not passed, the minimum wage the state would be offering would not be enough to attract and maintain workers in a field that already finds it hard to attract workers.
“Then you’ll see [more parents], thousands of us, terrified for our children,” she said.
Matt Rice delivered his testimony from a wheelchair. The legislative intern with People on the Go, a Maryland advocacy group composed of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, spoke of how he would not be able to testify at all without his direct support worker.
“Direct support workers currently work two or three jobs,” Rice said. “These jobs must not be turned into minimum wage positions.”
Committee members, Sens. Allan Kittleman and Delores Kelley, made a point to express full support of SB 890, which has 15 co-sponsors as well.
Despite the many passionate arguments for the bill, some lawmakers questioned the fiscal impact of the bills, particularly SB 905.
SB 890’s fiscal note estimates an additional $20 million in expenditures from the Developmental Disabilities Administration, only accounting for the current state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Montgomery objects to state mandate
Dr. John Kenney, chief of Aging & Disabilities Services in the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in opposition to SB 905, requiring county funds to supplement wages..
Kenney said he felt that Montgomery County in particular already committed to the caregivers of the disabled through an additional financial supplement that amounted to $8.4 million this year. Most of those funds go to for caregivers’ salaries, he said.
“We don’t feel it should be mandated by the state,” Kenney said.