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Low pay, burnout, turnover problematic for profession

SPRINGFIELD – Long-underpaid workers who assist developmentally disabled Illinoisans at rates set by the state would earn a livable wage under a measure sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans.

Senate Bill 3508 would require the Illinois Department of Human Services to increase rates so that direct support and frontline workers earn a base hourly wage of $13.50 by July 1, 2018, and $15 by July 1, 2020.

“Direct support personnel provide an incredibly valuable service to our community. Their wages should reflect that,” Steans (D-Chicago) said.

Direct support employees work closely with developmentally disabled adults. They offer assistance with personal care, teach life skills, distribute medications, help them be otherwise engaged in their communities, and generally ensure the health and safety of their clients.

The hourly starting wage for direct support workers averages $10.59. Low pay is among the reasons why Illinois facilities have had difficulty attracting and retaining qualified direct support staff, leading to frequent turnover and high vacancy rates. Direct support employees often must work overtime as a result, leading to burnout and perpetuating the turnover problem.

It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed, Steans said.

“Who suffers the most under this scenario? Vulnerable developmentally disabled individuals who can’t find safe, reliable group home care because of a human resources crisis that we have the ability to resolve by paying a fair, livable wage to hard-working frontline support personnel,” Steans said.

Senate Bill 3508 passed the Senate today and now moves to the House for further consideration. Steans has worked for several years to increase wages for direct support personnel. She passed a similar measure during the previous legislative session.

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