caring adult daughter accompanying senior mother visiting doctor

May 2, 2017; NYN Media

In January, NPQ reported that direct care nonprofit organizations in the state of New York were grappling with a minimum wage hike that came with no increase in government funding for the programs. Fortunately, at the end of March, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $55 million would be added to the state budget specifically for direct service workers. This is a huge win for direct service providers and for the people with disabilities and their families who rely on these services. Still, the fight continues—in New York, it’s to expand funding to include teachers and therapists; in other states, it’s merely to attain adequate wages for direct service workers.

Providers and advocates across the country are continuing the fight for higher wages both to attract high quality workers to these positions and to stem the high rate of turnover. Ultimately, these issues lead to poorer outcomes for the persons served and reflect poorly on the nonprofits. For Rise, Inc., a nonprofit in Minnesota, the combination of on-the-job stress and low wages caused 55 direct service staff to leave the organization in 2016. Further, the organization reports it can take up to ten weeks to hire new staff. This story in many ways represents the worst-case scenario for nonprofit direct service providers.

Beyond the nonprofit, what is a family to do when they rely heavily on direct service workers and cannot receive assistance for ten weeks? State governments and funders need to recognize the downstream impact this has, such as family members who cannot go to work because they need to stay home to provide care. Their income potential decreases, and they no longer make purchases or participate in activities that help stimulate the economy. Basically, no one wins.

NPQ has discussed this topic in some depth, particularly the subject of “wage ghettos” in the nonprofit sector—fields of work within the sector that traditionally pay very low wages. Direct service care for people with disabilities, the elderly, and children fall into this territory.

Although there are success stories like that of New York, more often, we see tight state budgets that leave little room for increasing wages. As the government wants to further decrease taxpayer burden, nonprofit organizations are left to figure out how to pay enough to attract high quality workers without breaking the bank or cutting services. It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers; however, the solution does not include paying employees sub-living wages.— Sheela Nimishakavi