State organization lobbies lawmakers to increase pay for direct support professionals

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 3:44 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable people rely on direct support professionals or DSPs to care for them every day. DSPs care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and most of them do not get paid more than $10 an hour.

Sometimes the love for a job can make up for poor pay.

“I love her to death,” Betty Mitchell said about her DSP.

“She’s like a big aunt,” DSP Tanya Lee said about Mitchell.

But Lee is still scraping by.

“My wages have been a problem,” Lee said. “I've gone to other finances and other resources to getting by instead of just leaving [this job] because my heart is here.”

Twelve hours a day at least five days a week Lee takes care of three people, including Mitchell. Lee works with Memphis-based SRVS which provides dozens of DSPs to those who need them in Memphis.

In Tennessee, most DSPs get paid $10 an hour and that wage was approved by the state only a few years ago.

“I guess I started at minimum wage,” Lee said.

“We want everyone to understand we are thankful for [the $10/hour], but that wage is not a competitive wage and we need a competitive wage,” Tennessee Community Organizations Executive Director Robin Atwood said.

The statewide association Tennessee Community Organizations or TNCO is lobbying lawmakers to increase DSP wages through the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to $15 an hour. The group is working with lawmakers to file an amendment to the state appropriations bill. The cost would be about $100 million.

“Legislators are very sympathetic, but they wonder where the money is going to come from,” Atwood said.

Job sites like Indeed and Glassdoor say the average DSP wage in the U.S. is $12-15 an hour. The state’s Comptroller said there is a crisis-level shortage of DSPs in Tennessee.

TNCO hopes to have sponsors for its amendment to be filed in the next two weeks.

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