Emergency Legislation Proposed to Address Crisis in Maine’s IDD Services System

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig leads bi-partisan effort to pass emergency legislation that prevents collapse of Maine’s IDD services system and restores it to full strength

AUGUSTA, MAINE (April 3, 2017) – At a State House press conference, House Majority Leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) announced emergency, bi-partisan legislation to address the ongoing workforce crisis in Maine’s intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) services system. The crisis was revealed by extensive media reports and advocacy from the provider community.

The crisis is a result of rate cuts to the system over the last decade totaling upwards of 30% in real dollars. LD 967, An Act to Ensure Access to Community Services for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism, instructs the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to restore funding rates to 2007 levels and subsequently adjust for inflation; and to provide for future annual inflation adjustments.

Rep. Herbig, the primary sponsor of LD 967, was joined at the press conference by co-sponsor Rep. Richard Cebra (R-Naples). The legislation was proposed to prevent a total system collapse and restore the system to full strength.

“Maine has been a leader in protecting intellectual and disability services for the last 30 years,” said House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. “Despite its success, unnecessary funding cuts are now threatening the system and its best asset- its workers. This bill will make sure that Mainers working to care for our most vulnerable citizens have adequate wages and the resources they need to take care of their own families while pursuing a meaningful career that helps all Mainers.”

People with IDD rely on Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to provide the services they need every day to live safely in their community. This may mean helping people in a group home shop and cook a meal, travel to work, or handle their finances. For many people with more severe disabilities, it may also mean help using the bathroom, preventing them from hurting themselves or others when they’re angry or frustrated, and assisting people with medical conditions, such as feeding tubes and colostomies. On top of all this, the work must be done with compassion, kindness, and good humor.

Accordingly, the rate funding model is based on staffing hours and without the appropriate level of funding to recruit and retain these professionals, the service delivery system does not function. Yet, over the last decade, the State of Maine has cut rates in real dollars by upwards of 30%, reducing wages for DSPs to barely above Maine’s current minimum wage and causing an exodus of DSPs from the system.

“This is simply unsustainable and as a result, an erosion of services is occurring throughout the system,” said Kelsey Dunn, a family member and former DSP who spoke at the press conference. “Families like ours with a loved one currently receiving services see a revolving door of DSPs or overworked support staff struggling to fill shifts, while those coming off the waitlist are denied placement.”

The crisis is threatening the state’s ability to meet its moral and legal obligation to provide life-necessary services to Mainers with IDD. It’s also an economic development crisis. Service providers are responsible for over 12,000 jobs and $400 million in economic activity, but some have been forced to close while others are declining referrals, reducing capacity, eliminating programs, and making other cuts simply to stave off closure.

“When our state’s major industries and companies face a workforce crisis it becomes a public policy emergency,” stated Rep. Cebra. “We should have the same response to this workforce crisis. Even more so, given the moral imperative of this work.”

Media Coverage

Central Maine: From the State House: Raise rates, end waitlists for most vulnerable adults

WHOU 100.1 FM: Around Town – Rob Moran from CLA 

WCSH: Workers who help adults w/ disabilities asking for baseline pay raise

WCSH: Organizations like Downeast Horizons are relying on a bill to increase funding for staffing

The Times Record: Service agencies struggle to keep staff

Journal Tribune: System in ‘crisis’

Press Herald: Maine used to be a leader in caring for adults with intellectual handicaps. What went wrong?

WCSH: Agencies helping Maine’s most vulnerable claim services on brink of collapse

Maine Public: Agencies Helping Developmentally, Intellectually Disabled Urge Boost in Funding Amid Staffing Crisis