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JFC votes to increase funding to support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee votes to provide long-promised funding for people working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The dollars are part of the Michael McNesby Act, which the state legislature passed unanimously in 2018. The act intended to increase pay for service providers, whose incomes – dependent on reimbursement by the state and federal government – had not kept pace with the value of their labor.

After four years, JFC signed off on an additional $16.5 million to help compensate and retain support staff; the federal government will provide another $27.5 million in matching funds. Those dollars would add to another $17.2 million increase in reimbursement rates for service providers included in the 2022 budget.

Ability Network Delaware assistant executive director Carolyn Petrak says the funding will benefit service providers and family members who count on them.

“Many of them are elderly in their 70s and 80s or older and they're caring for themselves and their adult — and sometimes elderly adult — children that need a place to go and someone to take care of them when their parents are no longer here," she said.

Family members in the committee’s hearing room on Tuesday burst into cheers when the committee announced that it would fund the McNesby Act.

Petrak added that the funding will be critical to dealing with high vacancy rates and turnover among service providers.

“The work that direct support professionals do far exceeds the work of the average minimum wage job, making it extremely hard to recruit and retain qualified people to do this work," she said. "Now that we have full funding, hopefully we will be able to compete with growing wages in other sectors."

The delay in funding has already taken a toll. The committee's vote came just days after one Wilmington care provider—the facility where Michael McNesby, an advocate for whom the bill was named, worked for nearly three decades— closed its doors. Earlier this week, Gov. John Carney deployed Delaware’s National Guard to assist a state-run residential provider struggling with staffing shortages, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Joint Finance Commitee's vote adds the funding to the proposed 2023 state budget, which the General Assembly will vote on next month.

Corrected: May 26, 2022 at 1:35 PM EDT
Corrected to reflect that Michael McNesby worked, not lived, at the recently closed center in Wilmington.
Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.