June 18, 2019
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We must fund the future of disability services in Maine. Our workers, clients depend on it.

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

We are proud of Maine’s tradition of community and caring for one another. We also take seriously our obligations to provide quality services to many hundreds of Mainers with intellectual disabilities, as well as gainful employment to many hundreds more people who provide caring support every day to our friends, family members, neighbors and fellow citizens with disabilities. From Kennebunk to Bangor and from Calais to Parsonsfield, every day we safeguard the health, well-being and dignity of Mainers.

Our business is helping people. Our business faces financial challenges at every turn. This is a reality of operating nonprofit human service organizations. We have become adept at doing more with less as a regular feature of doing business. Unfortunately, we are facing a new and dire threat: the federal Department of Labor’s Overtime Exemption Rule.

The rule, which likely will be released in final form in the next 90 days, would more than double the salary threshold at which workers are exempt from overtime requirements, with the salary level increasing automatically over time. This would qualify at least 5 million additional workers nationwide for overtime pay and would create enormous costs for agencies including ours, where staff often is needed outside traditional nine-to-five business hours because of the personal and often urgent nature of our work caring for people with disabilities.

Our services are funded almost exclusively by Medicaid. There is virtually no other funding source for the important work we do. The proposed exempt employee salary threshold will dramatically increase costs with no corresponding mechanism to cover these costs, adding to an already untenable financial situation for us. We have no power to increase our rates; our rates are set by the state, and they have failed to keep up with inflation, an increased demand for the services we provide and a host of other unfunded mandates such as this one. To make matters worse, we recently had to challenge attempts by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to make deep cuts to intellectual disability services only to turn around and face additional cuts to mental health services that would further threaten our ability to provide these much-needed supports. Unlike many other businesses, we have no way to adjust our prices to cover increased costs, so this rule will leave us between a rock and a hard place.

As large employers in our respective areas, we firmly believe in higher salaries and better benefit packages for the caring and dedicated people who do the work of supporting their fellow Mainers with disabilities. We regularly advocate at the state and federal levels for adequate Medicaid funding to appropriately compensate the people who do this work.

Collectively, we will realize a $575,266 per year financial hit if this rule is implemented as it is written. That figure only represents the fiscal impact to our two agencies — providers all over the state will be impacted significantly by the rule. This may very well be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back. We will be faced with the distasteful choices of reducing wages, cutting staff or cutting services.

The rule is no doubt well-intentioned, but it will have a devastating impact on our sector and could hurt the very workers it seeks to protect, along with the hundreds of people who rely on their services every day.

That is why we are urging our representatives in Congress to support legislation to provide a targeted increase in federal Medicaid funding for providers so we can afford to comply with this rule and continue to support Mainers with disabilities.

Bonnie-Jean Brooks is president and CEO of OHI, a public nonprofit organization providing supports and services to people with intellectual disabilities, autism and mental illness. She lives in Hermon. Todd Goodwin is CEO of Community Partners, Inc., which provides residential, independent living, health care, personal and vocational supports to Maine residents with developmental and multiple disabilities. He is based in Biddeford.

 



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