Letter: Legislature must do more to support direct care workers | Letters

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the care crisis in this country, but for people with disabilities, this crisis has lasted for decades.

Before the pandemic, there was a national shortage of direct care workers, those who support people with disabilities in their homes and communities with employment, community access, health and safety, and much more. For people with disabilities, these direct supports make the difference between living in the community and living without opportunity. Despite this work, their worth is not reflected in wages, forcing them to work long hours and multiple jobs just to try to get by. The pandemic and the associated inflation have aggravated this crisis!

The Virginia Legislature recently approved a meager 7.5% increase as part of the state budget passed in June, a far cry from the $16.29 requested by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. for consumer-focused direct support workers. The current pay rate as a result of the dismal wage increase is just $12.70, which is barely higher than the next state minimum wage increase that will take effect in January 2023. Considerable increase for direct social workers is long overdue. Their work is essential and they deserve a rate of pay that reflects their worth. Anything less is a shame.

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I have relied on consumer personal assistance services for over 20 years. I need direct social workers to be able to work, pursue social interests, engage in my community, attend appointments, etc. I could never have attended college and graduate school without the direct social workers.

This essential workforce performs vital tasks to support people with disabilities in their communities. We need the Virginia Legislature to support a historic investment in the home and community Medicaid system to create more direct care jobs to meet the growing needs and raise the wages of today’s workforce. Without this investment, people with disabilities and their direct caregivers will fall further behind.

Jessica SwansonRoanoke