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Idaho is facing a shortage of direct care workers. Here's what's causing the problem

Posted at 6:58 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 21:19:51-05

MAGIC VALLEY — For the Disability Action Center in Moscow, the shortage of direct care workers is a problem they have seen even before COVID-19, but they say the pandemic has magnified this issue.

They say one of the main problems Idaho faces is competitive wages.

“In our case, we sit right on the Washington border, and right now Washington has a state-wide minimum of $13.60 an hour and we’re able to pay around $10.50 an hour," said Mark Leeper, executive director of Disability Action Center.

The organization says some people who have applied for the job have even backed out after hearing the hourly wage.

“There was one girl and she was so excited to work with us. She was working part-time over in Washington and lived over in Washington and I told her you realize what the pay is here? And she didn’t, she said oh my goodness nobody had told me that and she felt so bad because she said I’d love to, but I don’t think I can afford to drive over to do that because I’m making $18 an hour,” Leeper said.

But since direct care workers are paid through medicare reimbursements, Leeper says around $10 an hour is the most they can pay them.

The Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities is working to address the shortage of direct care workers in Idaho, but they say wages are their main obstacles when trying to fill the gap.

“You can just cross the border and get paid more for some of the same work. We also have retailers like Amazon coming in. A lot of people have increased their minimum wages, which then drives the competition," said Richelle Tierney, Policy Analyst for The Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities.

The Disability Action Center says another reason why the issue was magnified during the pandemic is that direct care workers were quitting and clients had concerns over social distancing.

“Some people were afraid to come into their homes too and they kind of cut back and so I think as things start opening up I would not be surprised to see a greater demand because people will start having services again," Leeper said.

But the Idaho Council and Developmental Disabilities says they are working towards fixing this concern.

“Thinking how do we re-image this type of work what are the things we can do to kind of elevate it and elevate the importance of people with disabilities and their contributions to our community," Tierney said.