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State of Illinois

Advocates Push for Added State Funding in Disability Support Services

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Advocates for people with disabilities are pushing Illinois lawmakers to do better when it comes to funding for caregivers across the state.

The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, along with partner organizations, says a new study shows direct support providers need more financial support.

Helen Blackburn is the Vocational and Residential Services Executive Director at Centerstone. She says Direct Support Professionals, who care for people who need help with day-to-day chores, doctors visits, and more are being forced out of their positions because they can't afford to stay.

"What we're seeing with the DSPs is that people really love these jobs. They're challenging, but they're also very rewarding. But when you don't have a wage that measures up to the tasks that we expect from them, unfortunately we see great amounts of turnover."

Blackburn says in her organization that turnover is as high as 50%.

As state lawmakers put together next year's budget, advocates are asking that DSPs are paid at 150-percent of the state's minimum wage. They also pushing for expanded day programs, transportation, and increased funding for residential staffing and more.

Blackburn says DSPs are critical to keeping thousands of Illinoisans independent, and they are a voice for the voiceless.

"We have so many stories of going into doctors' offices, or emergency rooms where nobody knows what's going on. Our clients are unable to communicate their needs their needs, and our DSPs are there to support them and advocate for them - and that is so very important."

Governor JB Pritzker's proposed budget calls for $77 million in spending - this new report points to a need for more than $330 million. Federal matching money is available for some of the programs, and advocates say state leaders shouldn't leave that money on the table.