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By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO
Families and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and autism (ID/A) had hoped the new governor’s first state budget proposal would include new funds to cover the higher costs of delivering services due to inflation. Unfortunately, when Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget was unveiled on March 7th, all hopes were dashed – it was just more of the same.
State government has only increased rates one time since 2017 for publicly-funded ID/A services. Yet, during that time, food prices, fuel prices, the cost of housing and home repair, employee benefits like health care, and employee wage inflation have skyrocketed. When the new governor was sworn-in a few months ago, families and advocates thought that maybe he’d address the issue by adding new funding that would enable service providers to pay competitive wages to their direct support professionals (DSPs). However, it didn’t happen, and many of us who have been around were not entirely surprised. Most governors say all the right things, but they rarely make the needs of people with disabilities a budget priority in their state spending plan.
Now that Governor Shapiro has spoken, it’s now up to the General Assembly to add new funds to the ID/A line items in the human services appropriations bill. Normally, it’s very hard to get the legislature to add funds to an executive branch budget proposal, but these aren’t normal times. There are no other funding sources for ID/A home and community-based services. Neither private insurance nor private pay exist for these services, and so the non-profits serving people with ID/A cannot cost-shift to other funding streams to make up for inadequate government rates. Charitable giving helps, but it’s not enough to make up for the hundreds of millions of state dollars needed statewide to keep up with inflation’s impact over the past several years.
Indeed, the legislature is the only hope this year – they need to step up and add new funds to the budget before it’s passed in a few months. The Republicans control the Pennsylvania Senate and the Democrats - for the first time in a long time - control the House of Representatives. This is the time for leadership – for a bipartisan effort to make people with ID/A the budget priority they deserve. To that end, perhaps the Senate and House leadership should look to members of their own caucus to see how bipartisanship works.
For example, Republican House member Rob Mercuri and Democratic House members Dan Miller and Brandon Markosek – all three of whom are from Allegheny County – will be introducing legislation soon to have state government rates tied to a market-based index. This market index would factor in the cost of providing disability services, and then each year ID/A service rates would increase accordingly.
This bipartisan trio circulated a co-sponsorship memo recently, and in part, it said, “To help stabilize this (DSP) workforce and provide better care for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism, we will soon introduce legislation to amend the Human Services Code requiring that rates annually be set based on a national market consumer index. The adoption of a nationally recognized market index will help provide stability to this system, and also support the hard-working DSPs that are essential to the delivery of services for Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and autism.”
To PA Representatives Mercuri, Miller, and Markosek, I say thank you! Thank you for your leadership and bipartisanship. Let’s hope your colleagues in the House and Senate, along with Governor Shapiro, follow your lead!
(If you want to ask your state representative or senator to support the market index bill, click here to find your legislator and contact information. To read the full co-sponsorship memo, click here.)