Daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.  Family is a large, descriptive term.  However, my family is larger than most.  I am a direct caregiver for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I don’t consider them merely clients.  I think of them as my family and I care for them as such.  To me being a direct caregiver is not just a job, it is a calling.  It takes a certain kind of person with particular skills to care for others as if they were your own.  Direct caregivers are in charge of a clients’ feeding, changing, safety, and teaching them life skills.

We are on the front lines for Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens.

Despite doing this brave and necessary work many direct caregivers live in poverty.  I make only $13.05 per hour even though I have 17 years of experience.  Direct caregivers are so lowly paid that $13.05 is actually more than many of my co-workers make.

As we all know, the cost of every day necessities of life keeps rising in Connecticut.  Unfortunately wages, particularly those of caregivers, have been tragically stagnant.  I am a single mother.   Despite working full time I am forced to live paycheck to paycheck and constantly make heartbreaking choices about whether to buy groceries or pay a bill.  To put it bluntly I am one emergency away from losing everything.

Many direct caregivers have to take second and third jobs just to survive.  Some caregivers are even forced to leave the work they love in order to find better paying jobs to be able to provide for their families.  This exodus creates an unstable workforce that creates a pressing problem for workers providing vital services to people with intellectual disabilities.

The majority of funding for services and wages of direct caregivers comes from the Department of Developmental Services.  This funding has been flat for far too long creating a crisis of those in need of services and chronically low wages for direct caregivers.

The level of current funding makes it impossible to increase wages and expand services.  In order to provide workers with a living wage and provide services to all that need them an increase in funding would be required.  This year lawmakers worked long and hard to restore the majority of the devastating cuts originally proposed.

I join all direct caregivers thanking legislators and the governor for their work.  I understand they have a difficult job, but they are not alone.  Caring every day for people who cannot care for themselves is a difficult job and not being able to take care of your family at the end of a hard week of work makes it that much more difficult.

The elimination and delay of many of the taxes on corporations means that $223 million will now have to be cut from the budget passed by the House and Senate to offset the tax reversal.  It has not been announced where these cuts will be made, but I strongly urge legislators to not cut any more funding for the intellectually and developmentally disabled and those that care for them.

I appreciate the strength legislators demonstrated in restoring the devastating cuts and ask them to show that courage one final time.  Any further cuts would have a life altering effect on those with intellectual disabilities and the workers that have dedicated their lives to caring for them.

It is not my job to be a lawmaker.  It is my job to care for those most in need in our great state.  We’ve heard a lot about corporate taxes and companies threatening to leave the state.  Instead of hearing about corporations that make billions of dollars a year and don’t want to pay their taxes we should be talking about something much more important: people — people who work hard and still live in poverty.  People who are most in need of services should be able to get them.

As the legislature prepares for a special session on June 29, I hope legislators and the governor understand the necessary and demanding work direct caregivers do and the need for services in the intellectually and developmentally disabled community.  Preserving funding for the Department of Developmental Services is a critical first step toward building a Connecticut that works for all its citizens.

Felicia Freeman works for MARC Community Resources in Middletown.

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