Several hundred care workers, developmentally disabled people and parents rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, urging restoration of pay for those who assist the disabled in community residential settings.
Sharon Adolphsen and her daughter, Kendra Olson, were among two busloads of people who joined the rally from the Tri-City area in a bid to win more investments in services supporting the disabled.
Adolphsen is coordinator with the Benton Franklin Parent Coalition and said Washington can do better to support its disabled communities.
"I got up at a quarter to 3 this morning to be here," Adolphsen said.
The Legislature cut the rate it pays to agencies that employ the workers in two rounds -- first in 2009 and again in 2011.
A few lawmakers said they want to put money back into the budget to make up for the pay cuts. The cuts were about 61 cents to 65 cents an hour, according to the Community Residential Services Association, which estimates $19.2 million is needed to restore the reduced vendor payments.
"It was 4 percent," said Rep. Ruth Kagi, a Seattle Democrat, who is championing the pay restoration along with Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.
The services association said entry-level pay is about $10 an hour, just 68 cents above the new minimum wage, and 20 cents less in rural counties, and that about 13,000 workers are affected. By contrast, the association said workers doing the same jobs in state-operated facilities earn $13.32 and have far lower turnover rates in staffing.
"It is really a grim situation," Kagi said of the turnover in the private agency work force.
House Appropriations Committee chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the wage pressure is especially high in counties such as King where jobless rates have fallen and the care-services pay rate is not much above minimum wage. But he said it is hard to find money for anything in this year's supplemental budget and that rate cuts for many human-services vendors have not been restored.
"I think it would be very hard to do something in this year's budget. We have no money. It will be very hard to make investments this year," Hunter said. He noted that he and Kagi also are looking for ways to invest more into improving early childhood education and child care.
Senate Ways and Means Committee chair Andy Hill, R-Redmond, could not be reached immediately to give his take. But he did announce last week that he has a plan to tap more federal dollars through Medicaid to help reduce waiting lists for services for the developmentally disabled.
Hill estimated there are about 5,300 developmentally disabled people awaiting services.