Judge: State ‘woefully short’ on pay for caregivers of developmentally disabled

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U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman. | Washington University School of Law

A federal judge in Chicago says the state of Illinois’ plan to boost wages for caregivers who work with the developmentally disabled falls “woefully short” of what’s required under a 7-year-old court decree.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ordered state lawyers this week to come up with a better “long-term” plan to comply with the 2011 consent decree.

Coleman called the state’s proposal “a reasonable start,” but she wrote she “doubts that the proposal is adequate to address the issue of wages, staffing and retention.”

The judge’s order was the latest ruling stemming from the consent decree requiring the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services and Department of Human Services to provide adequate funding for people with developmental disabilities who want to live in an independent community setting.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision rejecting the state’s plan for coming into compliance with the consent decree,” said Barry C. Taylor, an attorney with Equip for Equality, an advocacy group for the disabled that is among those suing the state. “This decision puts plaintiffs a step closer to realizing the promise of the consent decree: to receive services that allow them to become active, engaged and included members of their communities,”

A spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general’s office, which represents the state, said Thursday the agency is reviewing the order.

Coleman found the state’s plan for wages includes an inadequate 38-cent per hour annual increase through 2020, while caregivers in the past have been paid twice minimum wage.

“It may not be feasible for the state to raise wage rates to that level, but this court hesitates to affirm the devaluing of the role of caregivers for some of the more vulnerable members of our society,” Coleman wrote.

The judge also criticized a pilot project to increase the pool of possible caregivers by recruiting people for these jobs who are on welfare.

“It is unclear that this pilot program will expand the candidate pool at all,” Coleman said.

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