“When you leave your son, daughter, mother, or someone you love in the care of another, you want to walk away feeling confident they are taking care of that person well,” he said. “But with a 50 percent turnover rate, and the average full-time employee working 58 hours a week because they can’t survive on $9 an hour for a 40-hour week, we’re only one step away from a real disaster story of a tired worker falling asleep and someone getting seriously hurt.” Steve Miller, executive director of Tierra del Sol, started in the industry in 1977 with a master’s degree – at $9 an hour. “Fast forward from 1977 to 2005, and they’re still paying people $9 an hour. What does that buy now?” Not much if you’ve got a family to support, say Maria and Mary, who along with thousands of other direct-care workers in this state are the real heroes in this story. These are the people who led us out of the dark ages in the 1970s, when the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Service Act was passed to shift people with developmental disabilities out of back rooms in state hospitals and into the community to increase their independence and integration into the mainstream of life. And that’s exactly what they did. The number of California state institutions has dropped from 14,000 in the 1960s to only 3,500 today, even as the state’s population has tripled. It costs almost $150,000 a year to house a person with developmental disabilities in a state institution where employees are paid twice as much, compared with $60,000 a year Medi-Cal pays community providers, says Ron Cohen, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles. But the state isn’t thanking community providers. “The song the state’s singing is real clear,” Strulley says. “It’s got economic problems so you’re going to have to shoulder the cost increases. Either make cuts or do more fundraising. “With 9-11, the war, and all the disasters, there are only so many fundraising dollars out there. And they’re not nearly enough to make up for the rise in costs and a 50 percent turnover rate. So how are we supposed to survive?” Bob Hertzberg, former speaker of the Assembly, cites the intense competition in the state for tax dollars as the main problem. “These are magnificent people doing a wonderful job, but when the tax dollars are on the table, you have so many hands grabbing for it,” he said. “It’s a shame because these community providers are an extraordinary value to the state for the impact they have on our society. If I was them, I’d be up in Sacramento making strong economic arguments to every leader in government.” Miller and the others say they have – but the arguments always fall on deaf ears. “We’ve been going to Sacramento for 20 years to fight in the political arena for wages to keep good people, but regardless of who’s in power, we haven’t been funded properly. “Our population is not a huge voting bloc and we don’t have high-powered lobbyists. Basically, we’ve been ignored.” In August, the industry received another setback when a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a lawsuit challenging the state’s failure to increase the wages of workers caring for people with disabilities residing in the community. So, for the foreseeable future – or until they get tired of it – workers like Maria and Mary will be leaving Tierra del Sol every day to head for their second and third jobs. “It’s not fair because if they had just one job, they would stay with us forever,” Elaine Simon, 57, a client at Tierra for 10 years, says of workers’ situations. Before she came to Tierra, Elaine could not cross the street by herself. Now she works in the day care baby clinic and does volunteer work in the community. “I just wanted to give love to more people, especially babies, and Maria and Mary taught me how,” Elaine said. How much an hour is that worth? Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 email@example.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Mary spends four hours a night after her eight-hour shift at Tierra tutoring at homes in the Valley. It’s the only way these dedicated women and thousands of other workers caring for people with disabilities in the community can make ends meet on the $9 an hour the state reimburses them from Medi-Cal. “I love my job, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep going working 60-hour weeks to make ends meet,” Maria says. “The people at Tierra need me, I know that. If I’m not there for them, who will be?” That’s a question being asked today by all the nonprofit organizations providing residential and day services for the more than 200,000 Californians with developmental disabilities. State Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to providers have been mainly frozen since the 1980s, fueling an annual turnover rate of more than 50 percent that, in turn, leads to the hiring of less-qualified employees, says Jeffrey Strulley, executive director of the Jay Nolan Community Services. “Just because we do the good work and wear the white hats, they think they can take advantage of us.” -Ron Cohen, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles. Their work feeds their souls, the women say. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feed their families. So when Mary Williams and Maria Isela Castellanos leave their $9-an-hour jobs teaching people with developmental disabilities at Tierra del Sol in Sunland, they head for their second and third jobs. Maria works at Sam’s Club on weekends and is a private tutor five nights a week to support her two children and send some money to her mother in Mexico every month.