Rep. Bennett helps secure budget funding for
services for individuals with developmental disabilities


STATE HOUSE – The state budget that passed last week includes significant funding to raise wages for caregivers supporting adults with developmental disabilities. The funding will help raise wages for frontline workers to a minimum of $20 per hour.

“I’m a nurse, so I know what it’s like to do your best but still come up short because you’re short staffed,” said Rep. David Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick), who championed the funding. “This money will make a real difference to thousands of frontline workers across this state. It shows them we appreciate their work and will help attract and retain more staff so consumers get the care they deserve, the care we’d all want our family members to get.”

Direct support professionals (DSPs) work at dozens of private agencies across the state providing care and services for adults living with developmental disabilities. Their job duties include helping consumers with everything from hygiene to cooking and cleaning, to job training and placement.

While the work is rewarding, it has been chronically underpaid since budget cuts in 2011. In 2013 and 2014, the State of Rhode Island entered into a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice, which addressed allegations that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the proper care.

In large part, the problem came from low wages which made it difficult for agencies to attract and retain staff, a problem exacerbated by the pandemic and inflation.

In 2021, Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. ordered the state to raise wages to $20 per hour by 2024. At the time, starting wages were just $13.18 per hour (or $27,000 per year for full time work).

Governor McKee had requested an additional $30.8 million to raise DSP wages. With the advocacy of Representative Bennett and others, the final budget increased funding by $75 million. That funding will ensure professionals who have been working in the field for years will earn more than the $20 starting rate. It would bring the average hourly rate to over $22 per hour and also improve community programs for those needing care.

To Joyce Rezendes, a DSP at the ARC of Blackstone Valley, the increase will make a huge difference.

“I absolutely love my job, I love being there for my consumers,” Rezendes said. “But even after being here for 10 years, the pay is so low I can’t pay my bills. Rents are so, so expensive. This wage increase will really help me. And it will really help our consumers, too. Because we need more staff to give them the care they deserve.”

“I want to thank Speaker Shekarchi and my colleagues in the General Assembly for getting this done this year,” said Representative Bennett. “All our neighbors, including those with disabilities and those who care for them, deserve to live with dignity. This funding will help make that a reality.”