Mass. Client Service Workers Seek Wage, Loan Repayment Aid

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Olivia Moultrie, a 28-year-old direct care professional in western Massachusetts, cannot afford the services she provides to clients -- or weekly therapy visits, chiropractor appointments, or car repairs should her check-engine light come on.

She's worked at ServiceNet, a nonprofit mental health and human service agency, for seven years. Moultrie's low wages have kept her living at home with family, as she avoids facing the prospect of burnout from paying for an apartment.

"I like my job because I provide a service to people that are in need, and it takes a special type of person to do this job," Moultrie said during a State House rally Tuesday, with hundreds of caregivers, clients and activists in attendance. "And this job is not for the weak. At a job that requires you to be a caregiver, a friend, a counselor, a CNA, a chef, a driver, an advocate and plenty more, you would think I make a livable wage."

Members of The Caring Force -- the advocacy arm of the Providers' Council, which represents organizations in the human services sector -- touted legislative proposals at their 11th annual rally that would bolster wages and create a loan repayment program.

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Circumstances in the human services sector are "dire," as caregivers contend with financial strain, time burdens, staffing shortages and burnout, said Lydia Todd, committee chair of The Caring Force.

"We can choose a lifetime of working two jobs, and many of us do just that. Others must leave for jobs that pay more, even though they love their work," Todd said. "Many take positions in state government with better compensation, the promise of a financially secure retirement, reduced need to work overtime or be on call, and weekends off to be with family and friends."

Bills from Rep. Kay Khan and Cindy Friedman (H 191/ S 84) aim to gradually eliminate pay disparities between state workers and community-based caregivers delivering similar services, disparities that can approach 30 percent, according to the council.

The Caring Force also endorsed bills from Reps. Jeffrey Roy and Smitty Pignatelli and Sen. Sal DiDomenico (H 214/ S 77) that could help eligible human services workers be repaid up to $6,000 in loans from their associate degrees, up to $20,000 from bachelor's degrees, and up to $30,000 from master's degrees.

Those proposals are awaiting a hearing in the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

Written by Alison Kuznitz/SHNS.

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