Budget season is well underway here in Massachusetts and the work continues in the legislature to create the financial framework and details for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1st. The Governor submitted his proposal to the House of Representatives in January and the House sent their version to the Senate last month. Now, it is up to the Senate to lead the way in recognizing the vital work done by skilled professionals in human services agencies by finally paying them a fair wage. It is, in fact, long overdue.
Agencies in Massachusetts provide critical services to people with disabilities and mental illness through contracts with the Commonwealth. These contracts contain dollars dedicated to staff salaries and those contracts have been woefully underfunded for more than a generation now. This is at the heart of the workforce and social crisis that has existed for several years, well before Covid-19 entered our lives. The industry has asked the legislature to add $351 million to the Governor’s budget proposal specifically to enhance pay for all of the people who spend their days and nights caring for others. Yes, I understand that $351 million is a big number all by itself but it represents just 0.007% of the proposed state budget; 0.007% to reinforce the critical safety net that supports several hundred thousand Massachusetts residents each year. This safety net is wholly dependent on a skilled workforce that must no longer be marginalized and taken for granted. It is time for the Senate to take a bold step and reinvest in this workforce so that Massachusetts can remain a national leader in healthcare.
Unfortunately, the House chose not to add a single dime to the salary line proposal in the Governor’s budget. This is why we need the Senate to step in and accept this challenge to give agencies the financial ability to stabilize and grow a tired workforce that has done so much for so many in this state. Massachusetts already dedicates considerable resources to people with disabilities and other needs and it is something for which leaders in Boston should take a well-deserved bow. However, we cannot stop short when it comes to paying skilled professionals a decent wage to help people who desperately need to be helped. Massachusetts made a promise long ago to support individuals in the community rather than returning to the misery of state run institutions and that promise has been kept largely on the backs of a talented but depleted workforce. These professionals need to be paid well enough that they can now afford to keep helping people. Dedication to helping others should not have to come with a vow of poverty and the Senate can start the process to ensure it does not. Let’s see what they do with the chance.