Home > Uncategorized > House leadership rejects budget amendment to raise direct care wages

House leadership rejects budget amendment to raise direct care wages

Despite support from well over a majority of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a state budget amendment that would raise wages of direct care workers in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system, the amendment was rejected on Tuesday (April 26) by House leaders.

Debate concluded yesterday (April 27) in the House on a $49.7 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins on July 1. The budget legislation now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Amendment 788 to the House budget bill would have required that 75% of funding in a reserve account for state payments to corporate human services providers go toward boosting wages for their direct care workers.

As COFAR has recently reported, low pay has become a recognized cause of staffing shortages in the state’s human services system. COFAR has called for a minimum wage for direct care workers in the DDS system of $25 per hour. Right now, the average hourly rate for these workers appears to be $16 or possibly even less.

In January, Governor Baker had proposed placing $230 million in the provider reserve account, an amount almost three times the size of the account’s current-year funding. Amendment 788 would have required that 75% of the account, or some $173 million, be used to boost direct care wages.

It isn’t clear to us how much the 75% funding requirement would have raised those wages.  On Wednesday, I contacted the office of Representative John Mahoney, the chief sponsor of Amendment 788, for more information about the measure. I’m waiting to hear back from his office.

House leadership ignores legislative support 

In the absence of current legislation to raise direct care wages to $25 per hour, we had urged support for Mahoney’s amendment. As of April 22, the amendment had garnered 44 co-sponsors. Three days later, that number had jumped to 107 co-sponsors out of the 160 member House. That is more than two thirds of the total House membership.

However, the budget process in Massachusetts does not generally allow for votes in the House on individual amendments. Instead, legislative leaders, including the House speaker and the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, appear to make the decisions as to which amendments survive and which fail.

In a November 2021 paper, a working group of the Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts included the following statement from an observer of the legislative budget process in this state:

… during the House budget process, there are thousands of amendments. They’ll (legislative leaders) go into the backroom and then come back out with ten consolidated amendments and that’s all that’s on the record for a vote.

In other words, rank-and-file legislators are allowed to vote only on “consolidated amendments,” which are bundles of individually proposed amendments that have been deemed acceptable by the leadership. In this case, the language of Amendment 788 was not accepted into a consolidated amendment.

HHS secretary reportedly testified in support of 75% of funding for direct care wages

Despite the decision by the House leadership to scuttle Amendment 788, even state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders reportedly implied her support for the idea of earmarking 75% of state funding to providers to be used for direct care wages.

At a March 7 legislative hearing, Sudders testified that, “it might be time for the state to consider mandating a percentage of rates paid to private providers be used for salary enhancements,” according to the State House News Service.

The News Service then quoted Sudders as saying, “Maybe we need to say 75 percent of our rates have to go to direct care salaries.”

On March 21, I sent an email query to EOHHS, asking whether Sudders was indeed supporting the idea. I also asked whether EOHHS had an estimate or projection of the amount to which such a requirement would raise direct care wages. To date, I haven’t received a reply to that query.

I also asked in that query whether Sudders would support legislation to require a minimum wage for direct care workers of $25 per hour.

Currently, the only legislation that appears to remain on Beacon Hill that addresses the issue of direct care wages is S.105. a bill that would require that the state provide funding to providers to close a “disparity” in wages between provider-based workers and state workers. That bill was filed more than a year ago and has remained since February in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

As we noted recently, the intent behind S.105 appears to be good in that it would potentially boost the wages specifically of direct care workers in provider-run group homes and other facilities in the human services system. But the bill doesn’t specify either a minimum wage for those workers or the amount of the wage disparity that the bill sponsors are seeking to close.

COFAR also seeking higher funding for state-operated group homes and developmental centers

COFAR has also pushed during the current budget process for higher funding for DDS developmental centers and state-operated group homes.

The House budget bill approved yesterday contains the governor’s proposed 6.2% increase for the state-operated homes and 5.1% increase for the Wrentham and Hogan Developmental Centers. However, since January, inflation in New England has climbed to 7.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation site.

As a result, the nominal dollar increases approved by the House in the state-operated group home and developmental center line items amount to cuts when adjusted for inflation.

There is a need for action to address pressing problems within the DDS system, particularly with regard to direct care wages and to preserving state-run residential services. Those services are critical to maintaining adequate care for some of the most vulnerable among us. Unfortunately, we’re up against a political system in Massachusetts that is not fully responsive to its constituents.

  1. Margaret Chisholm
    April 28, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    All direct care workers in nursing facilities, group homes, assisted living facilities, etc. are underpaid for their essential and literally life-saving services. Cognitively challenged men, women, and children are very vulnerable and require and deserve care that will allow their full flourishing. Those who work with them need and deserve be compensated fairly for the critical role that they play in the lives of these individuals. They are entitled to a pay increase.

    Liked by 1 person

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