My Turn: The bright side of the budget

For the Monitor
Published: 6/29/2021 8:00:11 AM

In the aftermath of the New Hampshire budget debate, there will be a lot of energy spent tallying the “winners and losers” of the process, with a lot of focus on how this two-year spending blueprint reflects on political leaders and on the political parties. The time spent on the most controversial elements of the state budget debate overshadows critical and significant assistance to the disability community of New Hampshire.

The budget makes significant progress on a long-standing challenge for Granite State Independent Living (GSIL) and several other non-profit agencies tasked with helping citizens: finding qualified help and paying them a decent wage. One of the worst kept secrets of our industry is the relatively low pay. While we celebrate the low unemployment in our state, the lack of available workers makes it very difficult for GSIL to provide critical and highly popular in-home care and services to consumers.

Granite State Independent Living is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote quality of life with independence for people with disabilities. GSIL offers non-medical personal care services assistance for daily life tasks. These are high touch, hands-on essential programs for our consumers who seek independence in life.

Low pay has long been a serious challenge for providers like us, making us less competitive than other career paths and making it tough to meet the needs of all consumers. The thing is, we have to come through for our consumers because we are frequently a service of first and last resort. We are proud of our efforts, but our workers do it because they see it as a calling, not to make lots and lots of money.

This week, New Hampshire lawmakers helped us close the pay gap that has long existed in the nonprofit disability services sector. With a vote to boost funding to our cause, GSIL can increase wages for frontline in-home workers, known as Attendant Care Employees (ACEs).

In the next year, we will invest more than a million dollars into our workforce, a significant raise for these hard working men and women. These ACEs are the heartbeat of our operations and it makes an enormous impact on our ability to retain these special folks and to recruit new employees through better pay. This will undoubtedly make a difference in the day-to-day lives of our consumers. I am grateful and thrilled.

Lawmakers took major steps to take care of those who care for others in our state. There are critical increases to three separate Medicaid-funded “Choices For Independence” (CFI) services for personal care, homemaker and case management. The CFI Program is a Medicaid-funded waiver program that provides a wide range of service choices that enable eligible adults to stay in their own homes and communities. Examples of the program include in-home services to assist with eating, bathing, dressing and other personal care tasks, as well as assistance with general household tasks and preparation of nutritious meals.

Lawmakers also agreed to a new 5% increase to other services under this waiver, expanding access to new programs and extending a helping hand to even more consumers. This increase will impact GSIL consumers because we will have more resources to invest in the programs that impact the daily lives of families who need our services, not to mention offering a critical financial boost to our employees.

Perhaps as importantly as loosening the purse strings for people in need, lawmakers are going to more closely examine how to achieve parity in both pay and services under the social security act 1915(c) waivers, which include choices for independence, developmental services, in-home support and acquired brain disorder services.

Nonprofit providers like GSIL have been advocating for investments and equity such as these for a number of years. It’s both remarkable and wonderful that these investments are being made as the pandemic comes to a close and people seek more services that allow them to lead independent lives. To lawmakers in the House and Senate, and to Gov. Chris Sununu, I would like to express my deep appreciation.

(Deb Ritcey is the CEO of GSIL)

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