Part 1: Why Professional Wages Are a Need, Not an Agency Want
In the words of ABBA, agencies need more money, money, money to professionalize supports. After reading about this private versus non-profit duel for funding on CBC last week, where non profits were receiving less money than a for profit agency, I wanted to share my thoughts. Outside of the field not enough people understand how crucial better wages are for supports. Or the ongoing struggle that Executive Directors face trying to keep agencies staffed based on their current funding.
For simplicity let’s focus on Manitoba. This is a global problem and most of what I say holds true everywhere. The numbers might vary from region to region but the basic problem stays the same.
In Manitoba non-profit agencies are funded to pay supports between $12 to $15 per hour. That’s not that far off from minimum wage which currently rests at $10.70, a mere $1.30 from the average starting wage. It’s also a miserable $2.07 off what’s considered the living wage of $14.07 in Winnipeg.
How long does it take to rise to the top of one’s wage scale? 3 years? 5? Once a DSW (direct support worker) gets to the top, they meet a minimum living wage if they’re working 35 or more hours per week. Please note that a living wage excludes home ownership, retirement savings, or other similar life expenses. It’s also inadequate for single parents. Current funding doesn’t meet living wage requirements for DSW’s, never mind professionalizing the industry.
With those statistics it isn’t a surprise that many agencies have annual employee turnover rates of around 50%. Which means they’re forced to spend their precious funding dollars on overtime, training, and recruitment. Precious resources that could be going towards raises and better outcomes for people supported. Year after year, agencies are forced into having an unstable workforce.
Fundraising is a non-profit go to. However most fundraising goes towards things that people supported need like housing, better equipment, and expensive accessibility renovations. It’s also not a sustainable method to increase salaries as it is not a predictable source of annual revenue.
Executive Director’s aren’t just battling for fair compensation for their employee’s. People supported need knowledgeable, capable staff that know them well. Who understand their likes, dislikes, and personal goals. Support for most people is a lifetime need based on unique circumstances. Without long term support, meeting goals like home ownership, developing long term personal relationships, and rewarding employment becomes a lot harder. Helping people achieve those things takes skills that should be compensated at a professional level.
Agencies are asking for more money because they NEED it. People supported deserve excellent quality support and employee’s deserve adequate, sustainable compensation.
Part 2 I’ll be discussing practical government strategies in other countries that have worked towards professionalizing support as well as the hidden cost of not fully embracing inclusive communities as public policy.
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