Services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are in the midst of a major nationwide crisis – the inability to recruit and retain Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) - leading to severe vacancy and turnover rates, program closures, lack of access to services, and worse. In Illinois the crisis has been compounded by years of under-funding. Adding to the crisis has been the economic environment – low unemployment, stiff competition for a limited labor pool, higher wages in private sector jobs, and local minimum wage raises. In response to the crisis, in 2017 executives of six Illinois provider organizations founded the “They Deserve More” Coalition, which quickly grew to include statewide associations, people with disabilities, their families, DSPs, and other advocates. The Coalition engaged a PR firm to develop a potent public communications strategy. Coalition members pooled resources to pay for the firm, which created a multi-faceted campaign, developing clear, compelling messaging including fact sheets, videos, infographics, billboards, and more, targeting public officials. The Coalition mobilized people with I/DD and their families, DSPs, and the community-at-large. The PR firm created a website (www.theydeservemore.com) and social media sites. Leadership sent regular constituent action alerts, generating thousands of calls, emails, and postcards to elected officials, and engagements between advocates and officials.
Now numbering more than 80 organizations and thousands of advocates, the “They Deserve More” Coalition has produced positive outcomes. In 2017, after nine years of no funding or rate increases, the Illinois legislature passed a DSP wage increase, then another such wage increase in 2018. Combined these increases added $1.25 to DSP wages. In 2019 the DSP crisis continued unabated, the higher DSP wage no match for private sector offerings. The Coalition continued to press for increasing funding to raise DSP wages in line with rising minimum wages, and address costs of providing effective, community-inclusive services. The State passed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, while approving a FY2020 budget with a 3.5% rate increase for services to people with I/DD; the first such rate increase in 11 years. Jim Haptonstahl, Chief Liaison for the Coalition and Executive Vice President for The Arc's chapter, UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, will present on the campaign’s successes and ongoing efforts. Attendees will gain a unique perspective on the effective advocacy employed, in hopes of replicating similar successes in their respective states and communities.