The Wolf administration this week posted a video showing the governor thanking the workers who care for thousands of intellectually disabled Pennsylvanians in group homes for their vital contribution to keeping some of the state’s most vulnerable residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What he hasn’t done is follow New Jersey’s lead in providing hazard pay for direct-care workers — who typically make about $13 an hour — during the public health emergency or extra financial support for the agencies that employ the care providers. In New Jersey, similar workers’ pay was temporarily raised by $3 an hour.
The sector is running out of time financially, according to the head of the trade group for Pennsylvania agencies, which typically operate on extremely thin profit margins and have been slammed with extraordinary COVID-19 costs.
A survey last month of 69 Pennsylvania providers of services for intellectually disabled individuals and those with autism found that they had lost, on average, a quarter of their revenue from services such as day programs and transportation that have been cut back due to COVID-19. They had enough cash on hand to keep paying their bills for less than three days without new cash coming in.
“That is unsustainable in any world, let alone a world of Medicaid providers who are almost 100% state and federally funded, Mark Davis, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability, said Friday. Without help, “our community system is really in danger.”
The agencies that participated in the survey have $1.85 billion in revenue from intellectual disability services and employ 31,671 direct support professionals. Pennsylvania has about 14,000 individuals in group homes. Officials could not say on Friday how many of them had contracted COVID-19.
“We realize the financial strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed upon providers that support individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism,” said a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid services. Officials are trying to “develop plans that will stabilize the provider community and ensure they are able to serve participants now and once the pandemic is over.”
Pennsylvania’s allotment of CARES Act — the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package — funding was $3.9 billion to state needs. Intellectual disability agencies have many competitors for slices of that money, including hospitals and nursing homes, which have received far more attention during the crisis.
New Jersey’s temporary wage increase — $24 million in all, with $10.6 million from the state and $13.4 in matching federal money — started May 1 and runs through July 31, the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities announced on April 29. About 8,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities live in group homes in New Jersey. As of Monday, 526 intellectually disabled individuals living in community settings had tested positive for COVID-19. The state has about 20,000 direct service professionals.
“Any funding is incredibly helpful as the costs associated with paying higher wages and the cost associated with purchasing PPE are significant particularly for the smaller to mid-sized agencies,” said Valerie Sellers, chief executive of the New Jersey Association of Community Providers, which represents 58 agencies.