Letter to the Editor: Why Doesn’t the Pennsylvania Government Practice Equal Pay for Equal Work? “| Letters to the Editor
Submitted September 22, 2021
“Equal pay for equal work” is one of the great victories of social justice and workers of the last century, and has been enshrined in Pennsylvania law for 62 years and federal law for 58 years. Sadly, it is not practiced by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when it comes to frontline workers such as the 55,000 Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) in Pennsylvania who help people with intellectual disabilities and autism live and work in the community.
It was painful to watch Palestinian Authority leaders openly discriminate against DSPs by offering significantly higher salaries to state employees, while forcing community DSPs to live on poverty wages. These DSPs, widely employed by nonprofit organizations such as InVision Human Services, Arc Locals, and other PA providers, are funded by federal law exclusively with funds from the state’s Medicaid program.
This is the same source that funds government owned and operated programs. However, when it comes to setting salary parameters in distributing Medicaid funding for these programs, the Commonwealth pays its own employees 30% more than local community programs. This is a disparate and discriminatory treatment of community programs.
Over 70% of community workers are women, with a strong representation of people of color and mothers with children to support. This wage gap forces them to hold two or more jobs to meet the basic needs of their families. Meanwhile, state employees have higher income and more security, including generous health and pension benefits.
The impact of this pay discrimination has directly affected the lives of the very vulnerable people the Commonwealth is committed to protecting as well. Community disability programs, forced to pay poverty wages under the state funding formula, are unable to hire enough workers to staff their programs. At the height of the pandemic, 80% of all DSPs quit their jobs because they could not survive on the wages provided; this number is still almost 40%. Meanwhile, state-owned programs continue to operate with a modest 17% turnover rate.
With the loss of these DSPs, more than 6,500 Pennsylvanians with developmental disabilities and autism lost their services and support because there simply weren’t enough staff to serve them. Many of these community-based programs remain closed because there are not enough people willing to apply for these low-wage positions.
Meanwhile, as those 6,500 people lost their services, the state has taken extreme measures to ensure that NO state centers terminate those on duty or return them to their aging relatives.
Today, more than 13,000 people are waiting for service, including 5,000 in crisis situations. Many of them have waited years. Years.
Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly have the capacity to address this crisis and establish equity between his employees and community DSPs. The American Rescue Plan has sent increased and earmarked funds to the PA to save these programs. Governor Wolf’s administration has announced plans to update the data used to define disability rates and wages in the community. And yet, PA residents are still waiting, knowing a deepening crisis, to see when Governor Wolf and the General Assembly use their authority and the federal government’s earmarked funds to resolve the crisis.
It is time for PA leaders to do what they asked and urged all PA employers to do. It is time for this state to provide funding so that Pennsylvanians who support people with intellectual disabilities can receive equal pay for equal work. It’s just. It is high time to do it.
Mr. Blumenthal is vice president of government relations and advocacy for InVision Human Services, headquartered in Wexford with additional offices in Reading and Harrisburg. He served in the Clinton and Obama administration as head of people with disabilities and in the House of Representatives (KS) and has an adult brother with an intellectual disability.
The opinions, beliefs and views expressed in this letter to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs or views of NorthcentralPa.com.