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PG County waives minimum wage requirement for social service providers

Providers of services to the developmentally disabled in Prince George’s County will not have to pay the county’s minimum wage to its employees under a new law approved by the County Council.

The amended bill, approved on a 7-2 vote, allows employers to pay under the minimum wage in order to give the state wages a chance to catch up with a higher one set in Prince George’s County.  Members of the council said the move was regrettable but necessary because its own budget limitations prevented the county from contributing additional money to help pay workers.

“This is one of the most difficult issues we’ve had to deal with in the last couple of years,” said Council Vice Chairwoman Dannielle M. Glaros.

Glaros’ amendment to a bill requested by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III allows providers to elect to delay paying workers the Prince George’s County minimum wage rate increase to $11.50 that is scheduled for October 2017. Instead, they can choose to pay the state minimum wage rate and implement the high county rate in July 2018, when the state increases its rate to $10.10 cents per hour, according to the councilwoman.

And the state rate would be lower than higher minimum wage paid to all other workers in the county. Advocates say the delay won’t allow the two rates to ever actually catch up to each other.

Despite the unanimous support for Glaros’ amendment, not every councilmember said they felt they could vote for the final version of the bill.

“It sends the wrong message to people out there taking jobs most people do not want to do,” said Councilman Obie Patterson.

Companies providing services to the developmentally disabled in the county are the only employers temporarily excluded from the rate. Advocates worry the waiver will make it harder to attract and retain quality employees.

“It was a heartbreaking and unprecedented decision,” Ande Kolp, chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Providers Council, said in a statement. “No other local or state government, to our knowledge, has taken the position that workers who provide care to some of our most vulnerable county citizens may make less than minimum wage.  It is truly unfortunate that even though more than 70 self-advocates, parents of people with developmental disabilities, direct support professionals, and provider agency representatives turned out for the hearing today, and stood in solidarity against this damaging legislation, the council ultimately voted to pass it.  We have strong grassroots however, and our fight for fairness will not end here.”

Kolp told the council Tuesday that the waiver would mean caregivers who have become so important to the lives of those they work with would seek higher wages “making sandwiches, not miracles.”

Prince George’s County is not the only jurisdiction to face this problem.

Montgomery County also independently increased its minimum wage at a rate higher than the state. The county contributes $13 million annually to service providers to close the gap between its rate and the state rate.

Prince George’s County would have to contribute up to $9 million — more than twice the $3.7 million it provides its own social services operations, according to Glaros.

“I wish we were Montgomery County,” Glaros said. “Our budgets are not the same. Our financial resources sadly are not the same.

Glaros added that $9 million “was clearly a significant lift for the county.”

Glaros said the delay would give service providers an opportunity to allow the state to close the gap between the two rates.

Additionally, the state factors in an additional 22 percent in its reimbursement for salaries. Glaros said that rate would bring the minimum wage for caregivers to just over $12 per hour. Advocates point out that the additional state money is a lump sum that is spread among all employees based on experience and length of service and not every employee would earn that hourly rate.

Previously, the state reimbursed at a rate of 30 percent above the minimum wage. That rate was ultimately cut during the 2014 session and again in budget cuts made by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley just before he left office.

Glaros said the county would lobby the state to bring the reimbursement rate back up.

It’s unclear how successful such a lobbying effort would be since state officials have noted that the county decided to increase its local minimum wage to one higher than the state’s and should take responsibility for gaps in wages for caregivers for the developmentally disabled.

“We’re left sitting there while they (the state and county) point fingers at each other,” said Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services.

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