According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 61.9 percent of married couples with children in their home were both employed. (https://pojonews.co/2peLabX). With the majority now considered “dual-income” families, one can assume that more often than not, two salaries are needed to support today’s high cost of living.
Imagine what it must be like for the families for whom two incomes are simply inadequate — who need to secure additional hours and wages to put food on the table. Or for unmarried individuals without children who have to do the same for themselves — who can’t seem to get ahead. If you know someone who works as a direct support professional, or work in this capacity yourself, you know that the struggle is real.
Imagine a day in the life of direct support professionals (DSPs). As a part of the primary caregiving team for people with disabilities, they serve as a liaison to families, assist in feeding, coordinate medical appointments, communicate with teachers and therapists, support physical and emotional needs, provide safety and security, and oversee every moment of the day for someone whose challenges can be very difficult to navigate. They work long hours that can all at once be draining, depleting, and deeply rewarding. Through it all, no matter how emotionally or physically exhausted they feel, these folks embody qualities that speak to true humanitarianism. Their dedication, kindness, and optimism are awe-inspiring. I see it every day.
And yet, DSPs are often living below the poverty line. With wages of $10-$13/hour on average across agencies located here in New York state, these hardworking professionals are often forced to supplement their income with second and third jobs. This, of course, becomes unsustainable for these individuals and their families, and leads to high turnover — creating a crisis for everyone involved. Agencies must find good people to replace those who move on to better-paying jobs, employees must leave positions and people they genuinely enjoy, and — most significantly — those with disabilities must mourn a loss of someone who’s grown so important in their lives while adapting to a new staff member.
At Anderson Center for Autism, we’ve marked September as Direct Support Professionals Month — a time to honor the work of these extraordinary people, to raise awareness about the need for states nationwide to address the importance of raising wages, and to remind our community of the need to advocate. Over the past 2 years, the New York state budget had a $55 million appropriation included in it, which went into effect on Dec. 31, 2017, and another $55 million which took effect on April 1, 2018. While this progress over the past two fiscal years is good news, it’s just the beginning. We all need to ask our elected officials to get behind a movement to #bFair2DirectCare. In doing so, they’ll be building a movement to get behind the 1 in 59 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and over 130,000 New Yorkers who have developmental disabilities. (https://pojonews.co/2MG3wvK).
Please join us this month in thanking direct support professionals for sharing their hearts with families, and for their willingness to stay the course as we all work together to create a solution to the problem of poor pay. Whether a mom or dad putting food on the table for children, or a single person who has his or her own dreams, everyone who works in this field deserves a high quality of life for themselves as they give their energy and time to optimizing the quality of life for others.
Patrick Paul is the chief executive officer and executive director at Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg. Visit andersoncenterforautism.org to learn more.