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Direct support workers in North Dakota seek wage increase

February 2, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Support workers in North Dakota who are contracted by the state to serve people with intellectual disabilities are pushing lawmakers for a wage increase.

Jon Larson, executive director of the private nonprofit Enable, Inc., testified before the Senate Human Services Committee in January about the “desperate need” for inflationary increases for community providers. Enable runs group homes in Bismarck and Mandan.

Larson asserted the inflationary adjustments are tied to the state Legislature’s appropriations.

Wages for direct support workers have remained stagnant for the past four years due to budget cuts, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

The average starting hourly wage for a direct support worker in North Dakota is $14.30, which is higher than the national average of $10.72 an hour. But many direct support workers in the state still live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Megan Arthaud, who has worked at an Enable, Inc.-owned group home for seven years, said seven of the eight direct support workers at her group home have second jobs.

“It has not always been like this. Probably within the last year and a half, especially because the cost of living has gone up,” she said.

Arthaud attributes employee fatigue and low wages to the primary reasons why people leave the job.

“A lot of people don’t come into it for the money, but it’s really hard when you don’t have an increase in wages in almost four years to continue to do the work and help people out when you’re not able to get by,” she said.

The turnover rate for North Dakota’s direct support workers is around 44 percent.

Community providers receive a combination of state and federal funding, including through a Medicaid home- and community-based waiver.

Kirsten Dvorak, executive director of the Arc of North Dakota, contends there simply aren’t enough direct support workers in North Dakota. Dvorak added she’s not sure lawmakers understand how these workers impact the quality of life for people with disabilities.

“I’m afraid we’re going to start having really good (employees) start walking away,” Dvorak said. “We think we have a problem now; without the increases, we’ll lose even more and really have a problem on our hands.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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