Martha’s Vineyard Community Services is the largest human service provider on the Island with roots established in 1961, when a community mental health center was formed to serve the Island population. Today, we employ more than 120 full and part-time employees and serve approximately 6,000 residents and visitors each year through our Early Childhood Programs, Island Counseling and Disability Services, the Visiting Nurse Service and Women’s Support Services.
Community Services receives more than forty per cent of its revenue from the state of Massachusetts as a subcontractor providing needed health and human services to Island residents. Our employees are part of what is called the human services industry, doing hard and important work, caring for our children, the sick, the elderly and disabled residents.
Rarely are human service workers mentioned as an economic force. But a new report released by the executive office of health and human services shows that is exactly the case. The human services industry makes up three per cent of the state’s entire work force, mirroring the size of the telecommunications industry, and provides more than $100 million in tax revenue to the state and its cities and towns.
“Given the vital role that this industry and its work force play, both as an economic contributor to the commonwealth and as a partner in delivering care to vulnerable citizens,” the report reads, “it is in the commonwealth’s interest to ensure that the industry’s work force is paid a fair living wage.”
Service worker pay has fallen victim to state budget crises for years, resulting in high turnover and recruitment difficulties. Under the current system, providers must follow preset contract prices that are based solely on budgetary considerations and bear no relation to the cost or value of the services purchased, according to a fact sheet issued by The Collaborative, a coalition of human service providers. Payment rates for the service providers the state contracts with to manage the programs have not gone up in 20 years.
The state legislature is now considering a bill (S 65), sponsored by Sen. Gale Candaras, a Democrat from Wilbraham, that would establish a rate-setting mechanism that would set a reasonable wage for service workers and provide some predictability for workers and the agencies that employ them.
This is why we support passage of legislation that would, for the first time since 1987, change the rates that are paid to providers. The bill also would establish an advisory council that would help ensure rates remain at a fair level.
But like most significant legislation, the bill must also be approved by the ways and means committees which are controlled by the House Speaker and Senate President. Even the best bills often don’t clear that hurdle.
This bill deserves the blessing of Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray. The most vulnerable members of our extended families depend on the caring hands of human services workers. Those workers ought to be able to depend on a decent paycheck.
Gov. Deval Patrick has already indicated his support for reasonable rate reform.
We cannot outsource these jobs. Nor can we use technology to replace the skill and care these workers bring to their profession. This legislation should become law not because it is their turn. It should become law because the state needs these workers as much as the workers need the state.
Please contact our representatives: Sen. Robert O’Leary (Robert.O’Leary@State.MA.US or 617-722-1570) and Rep. Eric Turkington (Rep.EricTurkington@Hou.State.MA.US or 617-722-2015), as well as Speaker Sal DiMasi (Rep.SalvatoreDiMasi@Hou.State.MA.US or 617-722-2500) and Senate President Therese Murray (Therese.Murray@State.MA.US or 617-722-1500) to urge them to support S 65.
Julia Burgess is executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.