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Why Not Me?

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“This is an important issue and someone needed to speak up, so why not me?”

That was Jasbir Kaur’s response when asked why she decided to testify at last week’s Senate Budget Committee Hearing in Newark, NJ. Jasbir, a Direct Service Professional (DSP) at Eden Autism was asked to go before the committee and issue a personal plea as to why there needs to be an increase for DSP wages.

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The human services system is facing an ongoing crisis created by years of underfunding that has depleted the ability of providers to pay a fair wage to DSPs.

DSPs are those special individuals who enable people with intellectual, developmental and other significant disabilities to live healthy lives. While they have one of the most important jobs today; caring for those who cannot care for themselves, DSPs are paid wages that are on par with the federal poverty level. The human services system is facing an ongoing crisis created by years of underfunding that has depleted the ability of providers to pay a fair wage to DSPs. It’s not an easy job and compounded by the low wages, many DSPs need to work two jobs to care for their own families. As a result this profession sees a 44% turnover rate. The high turnover rate has a direct effect on both the individuals DSPs serve and on those individuals’ families. With salaries that range from $9.00 to $10.50, many must pursue additional government benefits just to survive. With this crisis in mind, funding must be increased to raise DSP salaries by $1.25 per hour every year for five years, to bring the starting hourly wage to $16.75 by the year 2022.

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Jasbir has been a DSP at Eden for the past three years and knows just how serious this issue is. She agreed to testify because she wanted to speak up not only for herself but also for all her fellow DSPs that are finding it hard just to get by. “People don’t know what this job entails, how hard it is and just how desperately those individuals we serve need us,” she said. “I want people to know and learn from my own personal experiences and understand why there needs to be a wage increase for DSPs.”

“People don’t know what this job entails, how hard it is and just how desperately those individuals we serve need us.”

If you ask her what the experience of testifying was like, she will tell you that at first, it was nerve racking but once she began speaking to the large committee before her it became easier. Jasbir believes that it became easier because she was simply and truly just speaking from her heart.

The purpose of Jasbir’s testimony was to join Maureen Shea, Director of Government Affairs from the New Jersey Association of Community Providers (NJACP) to testify on the State Fiscal Year 2018 budget in regards to increases in wages for Direct Support Professionals to legislators and people in government who influence budgets.

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Jasbir described how many great DSPs she has met and worked with, only to see them last a short period of time in the profession because they cannot afford to live off of their paychecks. “Many colleagues leave and work in retail or the food service industry just to earn higher wages and receive better benefits. To retain these hardworking, irreplaceable service providers, wages need to be raised.”

Working as a DSP is a job that Jasbir thought she would only be doing temporarily. She admits it’s tough to be a single mom and take care of her own child when she wonders if she should leave to find a better paying job. “I fell in love with this job and I’ve become quite attached to the guys and girls, I look after. They need me and in a sense, I need them and because of that, I’m going to fight for the both of us!”

Learn more on what you can do to help!

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