Congressman John Lewis encouraged Americans to get into “good trouble.” These are the words he lived by, pushing the envelope and standing up to injustice. His ongoing fight against social and economic injustice for people of color led him from his march on Selma to his years of dedicated service to the US Congress. Throughout his lengthy career, Lewis worked tirelessly to right many societal wrongs.
At Venture, our idea of “good trouble” is calling attention to the significant human services workforce problem. We recognize this problem as a wide-ranging social crisis and we recognize that it’s about way more than just jobs. If McDonald’s doesn’t have enough staff to make your Big Mac, then you can go down the street to Burger King for a Whopper. That is not the case in human services. The systemic lack of staff available to fill positions in our field has led to 7000 adults with disabilities unable to access day programs. For some families, this is devastating. They rely on that time to work outside of the home or to have respite from care taking.
The social crisis impacts the thousands of workers in the human services industry, too. Because the industry doesn’t pay a living wage, our workers are often forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.
These choices have a real and significant impact on the families of our employees, too. Living in low-income households has long-term, far-reaching effects on the children of our employees. Studies have shown that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as asthma and obesity. They are more likely to be sedentary and experience exposure to tobacco, increasing their risk of cardiac and pulmonary diseases. Only 62% of children from low-income families graduate from high school, compared to 90% of middle and upper economic class families. Of those, only 3% graduate from college as compared to 37% for middle and upper economic classes. These children tend to have more behavioral problems in the home and in school. Parental absence can also be tied to poorer cognitive ability in language, reading and mathematics.
Our employees do admirable work and are dedicated to the field. They collectively have a very positive impact on adults with disabilities throughout Massachusetts. We are all – vendors, staff, parents, guardians, concerned citizens – part of a system that should be supporting the welfare of our Direct Support Professionals and their families so that they can continue to support adults with disabilities.
Lewis said “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” I urge you all to continue connecting with your legislators. They need to know how important the work that the human services industry is and honor the commitment that the Commonwealth made decades ago to care for people with disabilities. Let’s make some good trouble and make our voices heard!
Spring is finally here in Massachusetts and with it comes all the usual trappings: the days are getting longer, the temperature is starting to rise, trees are blooming, and people are spending lots of time outdoors. Spring also means that budget season is in full swing now as the House of Representatives and the Senate in Boston take turns building a new annual budget for the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, that process brings with it another annual rite: the need to ask yet again, why professionals who are dedicated to helping others are not paid as well as they should be. And that conversation is getting old.
The Human Services sector in Massachusetts is a very large one with almost 200,000 jobs and close to ten percent of the population in the state receiving some type of help. In spite of the many lives being touched and supported, the people who do this work, and do it tirelessly, remain vastly underpaid because state contracts do not provide for the type of pay they deserve. As a result, the industry continues to experience a severe workforce crisis that is now leaving people who need help behind. At this time, approximately 7,000 people with disabilities and mental health needs are unable to attend day programs they attended before the pandemic because there are not enough staff to help them. Fixing this crisis begins with finally paying professionals a truly competitive wage and this starts with the legislature. People on Beacon Hill need to step up and recognize the incredible contributions and skills of these professionals and the positive impact their work has across this state. The time to discuss the issue is over and the time to fix it is now.
Individuals who work in the human services sector already live a life of sacrifice. They put in grueling hours, miss holidays with their families, miss birthday parties, risk physical harm, and face the constant emotional strain of the work they do. For all of this sacrifice, the average annual pay for direct care staff is still well over ten thousand dollars below the state average. How can this still be the case? Every year we talk about the vital work being done by people in this field and the uncommon skills they have. And yet, we are still left to justify why they should be paid a livable wage in Massachusetts, a state with a very high cost of living. Without the amazing men and women in this challenged workforce, hundreds of thousands of people would be at even greater risk than they are now. In short, human services professionals solve a great many problems for Massachusetts and they are absolutely entitled to significantly higher wages for the heavy burden they carry.
The social safety net in Massachusetts is one that leaders in the state should be proud of and one they have invested in over many decades. However, that system is approaching a breaking point because of a workforce crisis that existed long before the pandemic came along. There is a tremendous array of programs and services available in the Commonwealth but the people who directly provide those services remain terribly underpaid. Countless people have left the industry because they simply cannot afford to do the work they love. It is time to fix this by funding contracts that pay professionals appropriately for their commitment and unique abilities. Without them, there is no safety net at all.
By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
The end of the year tends to be a busy time. The holidays are upon us, there are seemingly endless tasks and errands, high school seniors are planning the next steps in their lives, and Old Man Winter makes his annual return. This is also the time of year when Congress tries to wrap up business. In 2017, that means tax reform, which we all know is an unfailingly complicated business. In addition, this year Congress will also take up the chore of confirming (or not) a new Secretary of Health and Human Services. With all due respect to the enormity of the work happening in Washington D.C., we should be careful to ensure we don’t leave people who need help, and those who provide that help, behind. In other words, let’s make sure we keep the promise.
It is most important that we remember that massive change has the potential to inflict unintended consequences on various groups. As such, our Congress has a responsibility to be sure that any legislation or action does not inadvertently harm people with disabilities or the professionals who work tirelessly to help them. The cost of providing quality services to people is not cheap, and it’s not supposed to be. An automobile with front and side airbags costs more than one with pillows stapled to the steering wheel because it’s safer for people, and that’s what provider agencies do: we keep people safe. Providing supports that allow people to live vibrant lives with dignity and choice is the minimum of what we should require as a society. And this is not just a responsibility at the national level either. Individual states must also ensure that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made over the years.
Massachusetts is one of a number of states now moving under the auspices of managed care entities the fiscal oversight responsibilities for many of the services provided to people with disabilities The goal of reducing redundancy through better coordination of care is appropriate and even admirable. That goal, however, is dwarfed by the responsibility to make sure that no one who currently receives community supports is forced to make do with less. We must take great care to guard against the pitfalls experienced in states such as Texas, where many severely disabled children have seen a horrifying reduction in vital services, or Kansas, where some families have been asked to sign blank treatment plans that ultimately called for drastic cuts to supports that keep loved ones in the community. Massachusetts has always been a compassionate leader in the provision of social services and that commitment must remain absolute in the face of any systemic changes that may take place
As politicians struggle with the need and pressure to reduce runaway costs in certain areas, they owe it to everyone who receives community based-supports to remember just what people with disabilities (and their families) were told to expect when such supports were moved out of institutions and into local communities. They were promised that people would be safe. That is a promise that needs to be kept. It’s everyone’s responsibility to see that it is.
This week has been designated as National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, and we would like to take a moment to recognize the dedication of our agency’s Direct Support Professionals. DSPs are highly-trained, compassionate professionals who provide a vital contribution to their communities – supporting those who need assistance with essential daily needs. The work they do allows our society’s most vulnerable members to live safe, fulfilling lives while being part of a community of their choice.
Direct Service Professionals support individuals with some of their most basic daily needs, such as preparation of meals, helping with medications, bathing, dressing, and transportation. DSPs encourage meaningful community integration, help individuals maintain relationships with family and friends, and help identify recreational interests. These staff members are not only daily caregivers – they assist with communication, medical care, and more. At Venture, Direct Support Professionals are the lifeline of our agency, and we honor the work they do every day.
For more information about Direct Support Professionals Week nationwide, please visit ANCOR’s National Advocacy Campaign website. For more information about local celebrations of Direct Support Professionals, check out The Caring Force.
Venture is beginning its second year of the Mentor Program, a series designed to strengthen and empower our workforce through a group mentoring approach that offers the opportunity to learn from expert guest speakers, connect with agency leadership, and engage in meaningful discussion with peers. Our employees are what make it possible to fulfill our mission, and we are committed to providing opportunities to staff members of all levels.
Participants will be able to fine-tune skills such as leadership, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, networking, career development, and more. The program seeks to provide insight about thriving within the human services sector and offers an opportunity for professional growth. Our main goal is to invest in our employees, which will ultimately lead to the improvement of services for the individuals we support and contribute to the professionalization of the human services industry as a whole. Additionally, each participant will be matched with a member of the agency’s senior leadership team that will offer support during the program.
We are proud to be hosting some very knowledgeable professionals from our community who will be speaking to the group about various topics. This fall, we begin the program with a presentation by Christine Singer, who has years of experience in consulting and conducting workshops for companies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and human services providers. She will offer insight to the group about communication and conflict management. We are also excited to welcome Chris Tieri from Sturbridge’s own Idea Agency to talk about strategies for career advancement and personal brand development.
To date, three of last year’s Mentor Program participants have gone on to complete advanced degrees, four have been promoted at Venture, and two have experienced career advancement outside of the agency. We are very proud of their success, and we look forward to helping this year’s participants develop their skills, gain confidence, and experience career growth as well.
Assistive Technology can best be described as a variety of items which can help an individual work around functional limitations imposed by a disability. Some of these items include wheelchairs with adaptive trays to hold a person’s iPad, a brace for a person to be able to hold an eating utensil, a built-up handle of a spoon, or a communication device. These items are essential to improving the quality of life and level of independence for people with disabilities. Other examples of such equipment might be lifts, swings, tricycles, tablets, computer software, shower chairs, specialty writing utensils and so much more. These items can help individuals with mobility, communication, sensory, recreational, or social needs.
With the increasing specialized needs of the individuals we support, Venture has developed an Assistive Technology Committee to help effectively meet these needs. Key employees have been attending conferences and trainings to learn how to develop a program that will help assist individuals access the resources available. Currently, the committee is in the process of conducting assessments to determine what equipment would be most helpful to the individuals in our programs.
In keeping with our mission to enrich the lives of those we serve, we are very proud to announce our partnership with Tantasqua Regional Vocational High School in their commitment to assist people in their community by creating individualized and innovative assistive technology. This fall, we will be working with Ray Rousseau from the Manufacturing Department and Bruce Tranter from the Computer Technology Department to assist us in developing creative approaches. We are looking forward to teaming up to expand our services and we are thankful to the many students who will be dedicated to helping with these projects. Stay tuned for updates!
By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
With the year half over already, the U.S. Senate is working furiously to pass a bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act before Congress recesses for the July 4th holiday. A bill written in complete secrecy by just 13 members of the 100-member Senate is finally making its way to all of the people who will ultimately vote on it next week and, like the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, the details are alarming.
Of paramount concern is the Senate’s plan to mirror the bill passed by the House that significantly cut Medicaid over a ten-year period, while also converting it to a block grant. It is not just an assault on Medicaid, but an unequivocal betrayal of people with developmental disabilities and the hard-working men and women who support them in the community. With Governor Baker already asserting that this legislation will cost Massachusetts billions if enacted, the Commonwealth will find itself in a position where draconian cuts to basic supports will be inevitable. The human service industry already struggles to hire people, and will now be gutted even further. The funds available to increase wages will disappear. There have been months of advocacy that have taken place to educate the White House and Congress about what these cuts will do to people with disabilities, as well as the professionals dedicated to helping them. Both the proposed Senate and House bills represent that the people who wrote them and voted for them just don’t care. They know that services for people with disabilities will be cut and that pay for direct care professionals will freeze. Their actions prove they truly don’t give a damn. How did we allow our society to get here? If there is one thing that elected officials should be able to agree upon, it is the duty to protect people with disabilities and the too-long-taken-for-granted workforce that helps them. Instead, President Trump and leadership in the House and Senate have chosen to abandon them and dedicate dollars that currently support these groups to the most affluent in our country via a tax cut. Perhaps worst of all, these actions come following a promise from candidates that, if elected, they would protect Medicaid and the disabled. Obviously, it was a lie from the start.
There is still a process that these bills must go through before becoming law. Essentially, the House and the Senate must find a way to reconcile the two bills into one and send it to the White House to be signed. It is my hope that people will flood lawmakers like never before with phone calls and emails that decry this horrific dismissal of people in need. We should inundate our lawmakers with the notion that people with disabilities have the right to live safely in local communities. We must also remember the professionals who are dedicated to supporting them. So many people have worked way too hard, for far too long, under grueling circumstances to be so blithely abandoned in favor of millionaires and stubborn ideology. Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. If one believes this, it would seem that we are dangerously close to failing the test.
On Monday, Venture representatives attended a Disability and Health Care Forum with Congressman Joe Kennedy hosted by the Association of Developmental Disability Providers at the Boston Marriott in Newton. The event was attended by staff members and leadership from human service agencies, self-advocates, and family members of people with disabilities. Kennedy shared his commitment to “recognizing the potential in every person”, regardless of their physical or intellectual disability.
Congressman Kennedy expressed his concern about the American Health Care Act and how it will affect the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, with $1.4 trillion in cuts to health care. He shared his concerns regarding threats to social security, affordable housing, food stamps, and even Special Olympics. He pledged his commitment to the disability community, saying that we cannot support “cuts to services that we will all likely use someday, or be used by someone we love”. In addition to thanking attendees for their activism, he encouraged the group to continue advocating and raising their voices. He asked advocates to contact friends and family in other states and encourage them to find one more Republican Senator to oppose the AHCA.
Recently, Congressman Kennedy addressed Congress, rebuking The American Health Care Act. Watch the video here.
Congressman Joseph Kennedy III represents the 4th District of Massachusetts and is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. For more information, visit his web site.
By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
The inexplicable assault on Medicaid continues in the Trump administration and there is good reason for people to worry about it. The President’s stated plan to gut Medicaid by almost a trillion dollars over a ten year period, while cutting taxes for millionaires, will eviscerate crucial programs that allow people with developmental disabilities to live safe and meaningful lives in community-based settings. We should all wonder aloud why this population of marginalized people should be so brazenly abandoned. After we wonder about it, we should be appalled. We should also be gravely concerned for another forgotten group: the dedicated workforce of professionals who support these people in the community.
For too long already, we have allowed people who do the very difficult work of direct care to be almost entirely neglected by national policy makers. Advocacy to guarantee legitimately livable wages and increases, affordable health care, access to higher education and professional development too often fall on deaf ears in Washington D.C. Publicly, officials praise the incredible work being done by so many committed professionals. Privately, they do little to support this workforce. Now, astonishingly, the Trump administration is dismissing these professionals and the value of their skills by proposing a budget that will make it virtually impossible for them to get paid appropriately for the vital work they do every day.
According to the Baker administration, a cut of this magnitude would cost Massachusetts approximately $1.5 billion in the first year alone. Obviously, this kind of cut cannot be absorbed under current revenue collections, meaning that the state will have to significantly cut programs for developmentally disabled people or significantly raise taxes or, more likely, do both. The needs of an already underpaid workforce will certainly not be prioritized in state contracts under such conditions because the money won’t be there. We already have a genuine workforce crisis in the field of human services in this country. By obliterating the funding mechanism that pays direct care professionals, the Trump White House is saying loud and clear that the new administration values the wealthy above the disabled and those who do so much to help them. How sad that after so many years of advances in overcoming disabilities, stigma, bullying, isolation, and discrimination, the disability community now faces its greatest threat from people elected to help them. How sad that the dedicated people who work tirelessly to this day to make these advances possible stand to be abandoned by those who once promised unequivocally not to cut Medicaid.
It is totally irrelevant where the plans to cut Medicaid by such a staggering amount originate. The position, the political party, the individual, or the special interest group that encourages such devastation doesn’t matter. Anyone who plans to do harm to so many must always be challenged and educated to understand what Medicaid truly does. Such massive cuts as currently planned dangerously expose people who need help through no fault of their own. Just as troubling, they signal a total dismissal of the very real needs of the many professionals who already sacrifice so much to help others. These amazing men and women deserve much, much better than that.