Stakeholders told lawmakers this week that more needs to be done to support those who work with the intellectual and developmental disability community.

Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, told members of the Senate’s Appropriations – Health and Human Services Committee that her proposal would raise the wages of direct service personnel by $3 an hour by this July.

She noted the proposal has come before lawmakers every year, and it is important to support “essential workers” who are “providing such a crucial service.”

“This comes from … understanding and seeing with my own eyes the incredible work that our DSP service providers and personnel are doing,” Villanueva said.

Advocates like Jeanne Cameron, director of political engagement AFSCME Council 31, said it was discouraging that Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget did not include any increases for those working in the profession. She said no increases would let the sector fall behind after the gains made in recent years.

“It’s critical that whatever the final increase for direct care staff is in the (fiscal year 2025) budget, there’s clear and strong language that guarantees that front-line staff receive the wage increases intended for them,” Cameron said.

Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, questioned why facilities simply do not raise the wages of their staff, regardless of state-mandated increases.

Luis Andrade, vice president of legislative affairs for the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, said providers would find it difficult to do so without proper reimbursement from the state.

The committee held a subject matter hearing on the proposal and did not take a vote on the bill.

Lawmakers did approve a plan by Sen. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, that would create a support grant program to cover providers’ expenses related to recruiting, retaining and compensating licensed mental health and substance use disorder professionals.

The plan is a companion to a House proposal approved last week in the chamber’s Mental Health & Addiction Committee. The Senate proposal would allocate $40 million to the Department of Human Services to oversee the grant program.

Recipients could receive up to $200,000 in grant funding for each mental health or substance use disorder professional employed, engaged or contracted under the program.

Illinois Association for Behavioral Health CEO Jud DeLoss reiterated in Wednesday’s meeting that they are working on an amendment with clarifying language regarding the grant amount.

That includes the dollar amount per position, what type of facilities are eligible, a cap on the number of grants an agency could receive and setting a retention period so an agency could not receive funds if an employee only briefly works there.