As a lifelong Midwesterner, my mind can’t begin to comprehend the devastation unleashed on our southern states this year. In a matter of days, homes, paychecks, and futures were washed away. However, I’m reminded of the language we’ve used for the last few years in the State of Illinois. “Ride this out.” “Weather this crisis.” I’m also saddened by the loss of so many organizations and social services across the state.
Following a two-year cycle of posturing, votes, votoes, more votes and more vetoes, the State of Illinois has a budget. As a state, we have a lot of work to be done before our finances will be considered sound. Despite the negatives and controversy that surround this budget, and possible cuts from a federal level, this budget brings us bright skies—optimism and relief.
First, we’re still standing. Visit our almost 60-year old administrative building (please, call me for a tour) and you’ll see it’s not glamorous, but it’s ours—no mortgage, no lease. These low administrative costs coupled with court decrees around the state which made sure our contracts continued to receive payment allowed us to weather the budget crisis. We focused the funds we knew we would have on the people it is our mission to serve.
Next, after years of relentless advocacy through our state trade association, emails and phone calls to legislators, media coverage…,our state passed the first pay increase in nine years for direct support staff. So how does a pay increase to caregivers decide whether we keep our doors open? As the economy swings up and unemployment falls, it becomes more and more challenging to fill the pool with compassionate and skilled individuals willing to take on the physically and emotionally exhausting work of providing 24-hour care. We were losing staff to giants like McDonald’s. Sure, the work isn’t as naturally fulfilling; but it paid as much if not more and came with corporate benefits. When staff left, we were still faced with the same number of houses, the same number of people with developmental disabilities who need us. For over a year, everyone from DSPs to myself, have been working overtime—and overtime is expensive—to make sure our homes are staffed and the people we serve have the support they need.
If you read my letter “Everyday Heroes Who Need Your Voice,” you know that the sacrifice the DSP position requires is worth the 75 cent hourly increase (and more). This raise not only helps the DSPs move closer to a living wage, it also frees us to budget for innovative programming and expanded services.
So prepare to hear from me…a lot. Because as we move closer to a fully-staffed workforce than we have in years, Goldie B. Floberg Center and the people we serve are going to have a lot for which to give thanks.