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Direct Support Professionals Provide Essential Services and Deserve Fair Compensation

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. ALLEN. Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize the good people at Woodfords Family Services and the other members of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers who have come to Washington, D.C. this week to take part in the American Network of Community Options and Resources Governmental Activities Seminar and the ``DSPs to D.C.'' events.

* In Maine, these agencies are working with hundreds of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to provide assistance to individuals with disabilities. DSPs help men, women, and children with aspects of daily living, rehabilitation, training, and other tasks, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, enabling Americans with mental and physical disabilities to live and work in their communities. This highly trained, skilled, and committed workforce supports individuals in my Congressional District. The same is true throughout the State of Maine and the rest of the country.

* Years ago, the Maine Legislature decided to provide residential support to its most vulnerable citizens with developmental disabilities and other special needs. This community-based system consisted of a network of private providers who had a long history of offering services to individuals with special needs through local organizations that were created just for that purpose.

* Maine's decision was an historic step forward, for it allowed my State to achieve two major goals. First, the residents of Maine's only state institution for people with developmental disabilities, Pineland Center, were transferred to small, homelike settings in local communities. This resulted in the closing of the infamous Pineland facility in 1996. The second achievement was to permit people with disabilities to remain in their home communities instead of unfamiliar locations. The work of countless Direct Support Professionals was crucial to the success of Maine's initiative.

* DSPs are able to help their clients not only by lending them physical support, but by building a relationship of trust. They help individuals with communication issues convey their thoughts, enable people with physical disabilities explore the world beyond their homes, and help individuals establish friendships that allow them to give as well as receive from their communities. The success of these services is the direct result of the personal relationships that DSPs build with their clients.

* Thanks to the care and support of skilled DSPs, the quality of life of many Americans with special needs has improved significantly. However, this progress is threatened by expanding need and shrinking resources. In particular, we now face a critical DSP workforce shortage because, as the cost of living rises, the low wages associated with this career are driving employees out of the field.

* Despite today's high unemployment rate, members of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers struggle every day to hire and retain quality staff to work as DSPs in their residential facilities. To reverse this trend, many providers across the nation support H.R. 1279, the Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act of 2007, introduced by Representative Lois Capps (D-CA). This measure would provide states with funds to increase the wages paid to DSPs who provide services to individuals with disabilities under the Medicaid program.

* It is time to recognize the dedication, commitment, and sacrifices DSPs make to ensure the safety and well-being of the people they serve, providing a critical safety net for our disabled citizens. This care is often physically and emotionally demanding. DSPs deserve fair compensation. Accordingly, I ask my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring the bipartisan Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act (H.R. 1279). Our health care workforce must include a sufficient number of trained Direct Support Professionals to provide these critical services. Investing in fair compensation for DSPs is the right thing to do.

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