A compromise could soon be reached on how Maryland compensates workers who care for developmentally disabled people, an issue that has complicated passage of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s minimum wage bill.
A key state senator and a leading advocate for the disabled community said Wednesday that they are optimistic that a resolution will be reached in coming days, allowing the Senate to advance an amended version of the minimum wage bill being championed by O’Malley (D).
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has insisted that if lawmakers increase the minimum wage, they must also boost reimbursements through the Medicaid program to workers who care for developmentally disabled people in community-based programs.
“In my opinion, the two go hand in hand,” Middleton told reporters, adding that discussions over his concern with O’Malley officials have been productive in recent days.
The workers for whom Middleton is lobbying now make an average of $9.82 an hour, about 35 percent above the current minimum wage, according to an advocacy group. Middleton, whose committee has jurisdiction over O’Malley’s bill, would like their pay to continue to outpace the statewide minimum wage when it is increased for other workers.
O’Malley’s bill calls for gradually raising the current $7.25-an-hour statewide minimum to $10.10 by mid-2016, a timetable the House of Delegates pushed back by six months when it passed the bill earlier this month. The Senate is likely to extend the phase-in period further.
Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services, said that there has been discussion of a compromise that “would not be everything we want but would be very reasonable from my perspective.”
She said that the pay of community-based workers for the disabled would not be guaranteed to be 35 percent higher than the statewide minimum but that a “safety net” would be in place to maintain a reasonable level of pay. She did not elaborate.
Howell was among a group of about 200 disabled people, their families and their advocates who came to Annapolis on Wednesday and packed a brief hearing on the minimum wage held by the Finance Committee.
Afterward, the group marched two blocks to the State House, where a small delegation met with in the hallway with John R. Griffin, O’Malley’s chief of staff.
“The governor is not in his office or he would be here,” Griffin said. “The governor cares very deeply about all of you and the dedicated employees who take care of your needs.”
He said the governor’s office remains “in discussions” with legislative leaders about the best way to provide a pay raise.