UPPER MARLBORO – Issues related to direct service providers and food equity continue to dominate the county budget process. Advocates for those areas, as well as for school programs, addressed the county council at its first public hearing for the fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget. These same issues took center stage at the budget listening […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Issues related to direct service providers and food equity continue to dominate the county budget process.
Advocates for those areas, as well as for school programs, addressed the county council at its first public hearing for the fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget. These same issues took center stage at the budget listening sessions held by County Executive Rushern Baker III earlier this year.
As a result of the county’s decision to raise the minimum wage, direct service providers, those who work personally providing aid to individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, are effectively making minimum wage because the state did not increase their funding. Advocates say they deserve much higher compensation.
“One of the biggest things we want to ensure with the ask that we made is that you look at this opportunity to help fund so we can show the value to our staff and show they are not just minimum wage workers,” Clarissa Mitchell of the Prince George’s County Provider Council said. “They’re just not minimum wage workers. They have heart, they have value.”
She said providers need more than 60 hours of training before being able to work with a client, and continue their training throughout their careers.
Michael Glens, also of the provider council, said that the $3.2 million the group is asking for is the result of negotiations with county government. They originally wanted $8 million, he said, but given the fiscal constraints they re-evaluated their proposal using state formulas. Roughly $3.2 million would enable a wage of 7.5 percent above minimum for direct service providers, he said.
“This amount will be just enough to begin to address the staffing crisis we are currently facing and keep our doors open to serve the county,” Glens said.
Michael Ahearn, treasurer of Ardmore Enterprises, a service provider for people with disabilities, explained the staffing crisis is just one problem the county could be facing. He said 70 percent of the provider council’s employees are county residents, and that groups like them own hundreds of houses county-wide.
“The cost of $3 million is going to be pennies compared to the unemployment, the homeless (Developmental Disabilities Administration) folks and the foreclosures that are going to hit the Prince George’s County book. So if you’re going to do something, now is the time to do it,” he said.
The groups’ financial situation also limits its ability to get other loans to make up costs, Ahearn explained.
“Unlike a private business, they don’t have anywhere else to turn. They get what they get from the state and that’s it. As a banker, I can’t prudently lend your deposit money to these organizations knowing that they’re going to fold,” he said.
Mitchell and the others brought a group of direct service providers with them to the hearing, and told the group – many wearing black and sporting stickers supporting the cause – to stand and make their presence known.
“The staff that are here with me, it takes a lot for them to come out in this way,” Mitchell said.
Issues related to food in the county also featured prominently at the hearing.
Sydney Daigle, program coordinator at the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, spoke in favor of a $50,000 non-departmental grant for the council, which she said will be used for staffing and to support the organization’s food policy forum, its signature event.
“The Food Equity Council has increasingly been seen as a leader in food policy at the state and regional level. We are frequently asked to share practices with new food policy councils as a model council,” she said.
District 9 resident Preston Mears asked for $75,000 in grant money for the farmer’s markets in the county to enable them to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Electronic Benefit Transfer payments.
“This grant money has facilitated this connection. It’s also used for providing some incentive for people to take their benefits and provide them a little bit of a refund if they’re using it for vegetables,” he said.
He said the program costs $100,000, of which all but $25,000 was cut in FY16.
Still other residents spoke on the importance of the county’s school system, especially extracurricular activities.
Maria Duque, speaking through a translator, said she supports the school system’s spending plan, which the county council must approve.
“One of the reasons I support the school system is because I see what it can do with the little resources it has,” she said.
Other residents spoke about funding for extracurricular activities in general, as well as specific groups like Capital Scholars and Joe’s Movement Emporium.
Brooke Kidd, the founder and executive director of Joe’s Movement Emporium, which provides theater programs to students ages seven and up, said her organization would use the money it is set to receive to serve more students, add robotics to their curriculum, and partner with “a major music producer” to create a better production program.
“We’re so excited to continue to provide skills for our students that put them into a position to earn wealth and to start in the job market at a higher level,” she said.
The council’s second public hearing on the budget was held May 10. The body will vote to adopt the FY17 budget on May 26.