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Laura Howell

Laura Howell

Laura Howell

Executive Director

Maryland Association of Community Services

In 2014, Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services, helped lead an effort to ensure that workers who care for people with developmental disabilities maintained a living wage in the state of Maryland.

“Their wages are so low that we did not want them to become minimum wage jobs,” said Howell, who has led the association for more than 11 years. “What they do is very challenging and requires a lot of skill.”

Developmental disability services are funded through the state. But, in 2006 the state paid 69 percent above minimum wage for such employees, and as of last year that had been reduced to 35 percent.

The fear was that if the minimum wage was raised, as it was in 2014 in Maryland, that workers providing these services would fall below that mark, making it more difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff.

In 2014, Howell’s organization — a statewide nonprofit comprised of more than 100 members serving people with developmental disabilities — began what would become a successful campaign in the Maryland General Assembly to include its members in a plan to increase the minimum wage.

This year, Howell said her organization again will work to ensure that funding for those with developmental disabilities is maintained in Maryland.

“I think there are a lot of people who care about people with developmental disabilities, but it has been a challenge to make that funding a priority and to make it enough of a priority to provide adequate funding,” she said. “I really think of myself as an advocate for and with people with developmental disabilities and for the agencies that provide services. That’s what I’m passionate about.”