Care providers could be put in ‘Potentially disastrous situation’

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Inmates at Arizona State Prison-Kingman refurbish wheelchairs that are distributed to people who need them. Care for the intellectually and physically disabled Americans could be in jeopardy due to chronic funding shortages and the new minimum wage law set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Photo by Doug McMurdo.

Inmates at Arizona State Prison-Kingman refurbish wheelchairs that are distributed to people who need them. Care for the intellectually and physically disabled Americans could be in jeopardy due to chronic funding shortages and the new minimum wage law set to go into effect Jan. 1.

The new minimum wage law has unintended consequences for care providers.

Since 2009, the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities (AAPPD) has been advocating for the restoration of state funding that was previously cut.

These state funding cuts, coupled with the additional pressures of Proposition 206 – the voter-approved ballot question regarding raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour on Jan. 1 and increasing to $12 an hour in 2020 – and other federal rules and regulation changes have created a potentially disastrous situation for the care provider community.

Caring for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities requires patience, compassion, passion and skill – like any skilled profession, it’s not for everyone. As a result, providers for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and families value the care provided by direct care professionals, those entrusted to work with our members on a daily basis.

Our direct care staff have amazing hearts, but we are unable to pay them the livable wage they deserve for their great work.

As a result, staff turnover rates are as high as 80 percent across the state and direct care workers’ pay is often below what big box stores or fast food chains can offer their employees.

Given the personal nature of providing care to individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, consistency in staffing creates trust for the individual receiving care and peace of mind for the family, and while increasing the minimum wage may have sounded like a simple solution to this problem, it will actually make the current state of affairs for this community worse.

The cost and reimbursement of our services is determined by the state of Arizona. This means care providers cannot increase the cost of our services to cover the increase in wages.

Absent appropriate increases in state funding to cover the higher employment costs of Prop. 206, care providers will be unable to absorb the cost of increased wages. Some service providers will offer limited services with reduced staffs that will be unable to safely provide critical care to our most vulnerable populations, and some will be forced to close their doors as early as Jan. 1, leaving staff out of a job and many of the 30,000 individuals with disabilities with no place in Arizona to receive care.

If no state funding is made available, the state is in jeopardy of losing the network that is relied upon to serve this vulnerable population.

Providers want and need to increase the wages of our direct care workers – not only are they worth it, but the ability to recruit and retain more professionals to provide quality and consistent care to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is critical at this juncture.

We want to continue to serve this vulnerable population, but we need Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature to increase funding for the care of those with developmental disabilities as soon as possible.

Otherwise, the passage of Prop. 206, coupled with the funding cuts of the past, will jeopardize the health and safety of Arizona’s most vulnerable residents.

The writer is chairwoman of the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities.