Senator Steans fights for direct support personnel on the Senate floorStacey Fountain works 12-hour shifts caring for five to eight women with developmental disabilities in Chicago. She cooks and cleans for them, distributes their medication, and teaches them how to perform routine household tasks such as folding their clothes and sweeping the floor.

Fountain is their sole caregiver while on duty and earns $11.23 an hour – just $1 more than the $10.22 hourly wage she earned when she took the job four years ago. The job can be demanding, she said, but it’s also rewarding. Often when she arrives to begin her shift, the women clap because they are so excited to see her.

“It’s hard work, but it’s a blessing to have a job,” said Fountain, a 45-year-old mother who also cares for her own mother in their West Rodgers Park home and struggles to make ends meet each month. “It’s important to even be able to work these days.”

Legislation that advanced out of the Illinois Senate today could help Fountain and other direct support workers like her earn a better living for the work they do.

Senate Bill 955 would raise the wages for direct support personnel to $15-an-hour. The legislation passed 36 to 20. Currently, starting salaries for direct support personnel are $9.30 and staff vacancy rates have reached 25 percent.

“Gov. Rauner vetoed our last effort to raise wages for these workers saying the state can’t afford it, even though half of the cost to increase direct support personnel wages would come from federal reimbursement,” Steans said. “These are challenging jobs, and these frontline workers deserve a wage that is commensurate with the experience they have and the compassionate work they do.”

Fountain said a $15-per-hour wage would make an enormous difference in her life. Her current wage barely enables her to live paycheck to paycheck. She has struggled to pay her bills on time, and once she was unable to get to work because she did not have gas in her car or any money to fill up.

Illinois direct support personnel have not received a raise in nearly a decade and are paid among the lowest wages in the nation for comparable work. Low wages are among the reasons why Illinois facilities have had difficulty attracting and retaining qualified staff, leading to high staff turnover and vacancy rates. Fountain and other direct support personnel are often required to work overtime due to staff shortages.

As a result, many clients have had difficulty finding group homes in which to live because providers do not have enough staff to care for residents.

“This is an unacceptable cycle that deserves the governor’s attention,”  Steans said.

“Today the Senate sent the governor a strong message by passing this legislation with a veto-proof majority,” she said. “I will work with my colleagues in the House to ensure that the governor hears our message loud and clear. It’s time for direct support personnel to be paid a living wage.”

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