Senator Stephen Sweeney (primary sponsor) and Senator Troy Singleton have put forward a bill in the New Jersey legislature that would increase direct support professional (DSP) wages in the state.
As the bill’s “statement” makes clear, DSP wages are becoming unsustainable at their current levels as the cost of living rises. See below:
“At an average starting salary of $12 per hour, DSP wages are not competitive, with an increasing number of retailers paying $15 to $18 per hour and New Jersey’s minimum wage on a path to $15 per hour for entry-level jobs that are far less demanding. To compound the issue, there is a growing DSP shortage that is threatening the safety and health of individuals with I/DD living in community settings.”
An increase in funding for DSP wages would be a boon to this industry and would ensure better, more consistent care is provided to individuals with disabilities and their families. The statement goes on to say:
“It is the sponsor’s goal that this supplemental appropriation will provide the funding necessary in order for the DSP workforce to stay competitive and maintain a stable. According to the Coalition for a DSP Living Wage, these funds, along with a federal match of $16.5 million, will equal a $1.20 an hour increase for DSPs, which is needed in order to accommodate the next increase to the minimum wage on January 1, 2021 to $12 per hour.”
Seeing it spelled out this way makes it clear the need for this legislation to be enacted, but we wanted to point to a statement made by an individual who works with DSPs to access her community. Annie Sims is an advocate and a person with a disability. She wanted to deliver a statement to the committee but was unable to. We would like to amplify her voice by posting her statement below:
“My name is Annie Sims. I am a self-advocate. I live in my own apartment. I don’t need help cooking or cleaning. I have direct care staff work with me only a few hours a week. But, I use a lot of supports from other staff at CAU (Community Access Unlimited) every day. The facilities department takes care of my apartment, if my toilet or shower breaks, they come right away and fix it. I eat in our cafe daily. Chef Peter not only make really good food, he created an environment where everyone can hang out during the day and feel welcome. My employment support counselor and my supervisors make sure I have what I need to work at my two jobs. I work in our chat center and with our advocacy team. Boris and Christ, in I.T., are there to fix my computer or my phone. They also reset my password when I forget it. None of these people are considered DSPs. If any of them left to make more money, I would not have everything I need. I am asking you to create an overall rate increase, so everyone can have a raise, not just certain staff.”
We are so thankful for advocates like Annie who are willing to step up and make their voice heard.
We hope you’ll join Annie in making this bill a reality. It has moved out of committee, but still has a ways to go before it is enacted. If you are interested in helping take it over the finish line, so join our advocacy network and reach out to your local representatives to make a difference.