News Council, members urge committee to support fair pay, loan repayment bills

The Providers’ Council, member executives and human services workers testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities May 28 in support of legislation that would establish fair pay for comparable work and a student loan repayment program for human services workers.

The committee also heard support for the bills – HB 138/SB 1077 An act relative to fair pay for comparable work and HB 163/SB 56 An act to establish a student loan repayment program for human services workers – from several legislators and other statewide associations. Fair Pay sponsors Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Kay Khan – is a co-chair of the committee with Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz – both spoke in support of the bills. Loan repayment sponsor Rep. Jeffrey Roy urged the committee to report favorably on the bill.

Providers’ Council President and CEO Michael Weekes presented the statistics and data about the state’s community-based provider industry, wage disparity and student debt in the sector. Member CEOs Bill Sprague of Bay Cove Human Services and Lydia Todd of NFI Massachusetts spoke of the impact of pay disparity on their organizations, including a 20-30 percent vacancy rate.

Justice Resource Institute CEO Andy Pond testified in support of the student loan bill, noting that human services workers incur “the same debt as a doctor or a lawyer without the capacity to be able to earn enough” to pay it back.

Two panels of human services workers – with jobs ranging from residential counselor to social worker and clinician – shared their personal stories of student debt with the committee. They were Kristy Buck and Michael Baker from Key Program; Shannyn Pomeroy, Community Resources for Justice; Eileen Foley, NFI Massachusetts; Shaneika Martin, The Home for Little Wanderers; and Jennalyn Giles, HMEA.

Martin, who recently turned down acceptance to Simmons University School of Social Work due to the burden of student debt, noted that “It’s hard to assist families when you’re living with the same struggles – (how to pay) rent, utilities, health care. If this bill passed, I could start digging away at that debt.”

In addition to the bills’ sponsors, Reps. Denise Provost and Mindy Domb also spoke in support of fair pay and loan repayment. Representatives from the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers spoke in support of the loan repayment bill.

Information about HB 138/SB 1077 and HB 163/SB 56 is available in the Public Policy section of providers.org. Complete coverage of the hearing is in the June issue of The Provider newspaper. If you have questions about this legislation, contact Bill Yelenak at bill@providers.org or call 617.428.3637 x122.

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