Connecticut Legislature Votes to Boost Wages for Direct Care Workers

May 5, 2018; Connecticut Mirror

Averting a threatened strike and following a vote by the state house, the Connecticut Senate voted earlier this week 29-4 to approve hikes for 19,000 union and nonunion workers who care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The bill was then quickly signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. These direct care workers, many of whom work for private nonprofit group homes supported by state funding, had not seen a raise in over ten years. In this case, as we reported recently, the nonprofit employers supported a strike by their own employees to ensure the state-backed a rate increase.

The minimum wage for these workers, which is now around $11.20 per hour, will increase to $14.75 per hour, according to SEIU 1199, whose 2,500 members staffing 250 group homes had threatened a strike last week. The strike was called off when the Senate agreed to raise the direct care worker wage floor. Workers earning more than $14.75 per hour will receive a five percent increase.

In a campaign ad targeting state senators, workers explained that low pay forces them to work as much as 80 or 90 hours a week. “You know what SB 400 means to me? More time with my family,” one worker said.

Many direct care workers love what they do, but it has been increasingly difficult for them to make ends meet as state legislatures squeeze their Medicaid budgets. NPQ has written frequently about the “wage ghettos” created by underfunding of nonprofit direct services.

“For far too long, the people who provide care to our most vulnerable neighbors have been underpaid for their critical work,” said Governor Dan Malloy. “The action taken by the Senate today will ensure thy are compensated fairly.”

The Senate agreed to appropriate $21.5 million for the second half of this fiscal year, and $43.1 million in FY2019–2020 to cover the wage increases. The state will be reimbursed through federal Medicaid funds for half that amount.

No doubt, in Connecticut, where the state has faced enormous budget woes, there will be much gnashing of teeth about priorities for balancing the budget. But for far too long, states have balanced their budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities and the women and people of color who care for them. The result, according to a 2017 report from the advocacy group ANCOR, is constant turnover, vacancies, and poor quality care, which affects families across the state who have loved ones who need services.

“We greatly appreciate the Senate, the House and the Governor for taking up this important matter that will positively impact the lives and wages of 18,000 workers and thousands of clients across the state,” said SEIU 1199 spokesperson Jennifer Schneider. “Today the Senate ended a twelve-year drought of funding for services for the disabled in the private sector. Caring for people with disabilities is a difficult and important job and the workers who provide these services deserve to be valued.”— Karen Kahn