I want to take a moment to advocate for those who assist 40,000 Hoosiers with intellectual and developmental disabilities each and every day and help show the world how truly ABLE they are. I’m talking about Indiana’s Direct Support Professionals (DSPs).

More than 20,000 DSPs in Indiana support clients in homes, in the community and at their places of employment. Their work is needed and invaluable. Yet, they are paid a low wage due to insufficient Medicaid reimbursements. Because of this, New Hope of Indiana and other service providers have a difficult time recruiting and retaining enough support staff.

Why should you care? These DSPs empower Hoosiers with disabilities to live, learn and be a part of the workforce. Their support is awe-inspiring and vitally important to the success and well-being of the individuals they serve. They provide clients with assistance with activities of daily living, transportation, general behavior support, cooking, cleaning, and help create a feeling of home while building friendships with those they serve.  DSPs enable family members of those with disabilities to take a break, go to work or school, or care for their other children. These DSPs are the glue that holds a family or group of adults with disabilities together.

Yet, more than one-third of DSPs leave the field each year.  They tell us they want to stay in these important jobs, but they need more money to do so.

If New Hope and other organizations can’t fill the DSP positions or there is high turnover, people with disabilities experience negative impacts on their quality of life. Without DSPs, their families must stay home to care for them.

So, what’s the solution? It’s easy to just say, “Pay DSPs more.” But, nonprofits like New Hope are on tight budgets, and Medicaid reimbursements are holding steady. It will take the combined efforts of individuals with disabilities, their families, advocates and lawmakers to find a solution and begin to pay DSPs a living wage.  Other states have done it.

On average in Indiana, DSPs make $11 an hour or an annual salary of $22,880 per year. That’s close to the poverty level for a family of three, for incredibly difficult work. One recent report from INARF and The Arc of Indiana said “It is widely believed that we will not reach a stable work force until DSPs make at least $15 hourly, which would allow them to develop their jobs into a long-term career.”

Until then, we can expect high turnover and a lack of consistent care for some of our most vulnerable residents. It’s time to treat DSPs as the vital professionals they are. We can’t afford not to.

Allison Wharry is the CEO of New Hope of Indiana.

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