State Budget is Silent on COVID-19’s Financial Impact on Human Service Providers and the Looming Work Force Crisis

A letter to the Editor written by Marty Sinnott, President & CEO, Child & Family, Middletown, RI, June 25, 2021

Child & Family, along with many other community based human services providers, has worked mightily to be the safety net for families, youth, and low-income seniors. A work force crisis has begun that must be addressed by the Governor and General Assembly. Maybe human services agencies have been too good at stepping up in the midst of the pandemic such that the public, the Governor, and Members of the General Assembly take our services and capacity for granted.

Staffs at these organizations are heroes. Our foster parents cared for COVID-19 positive youth. Soon after the pandemic began, our Sandpipers Early Learning Center picked right up caring for newborns to Pre-K children, ages 6 weeks to 6 years-old, so that essential working parents could do their jobs. Staff in our Residential Group Homes worked 24/7 caring for traumatized and COVID-19 positive teenagers who had no viable family resources in the midst of the pandemic. To keep youth, families, and low-income seniors safe we figured out how to supply PPE, work with the telehealth system, and when required we provided in-person visits. Our staff stepped up and did it.

Here are a few important things that we did at Child & Family, to be that safety net, while also supporting our staff who truly are essential workers during this pandemic.

  • We increased the salary of our Residential Counselors from $13.50 per hour to $17.50.
  • We increased the starting salary of a Teachers’ Assistant in our Sandpipers Early Learning Center from $11.50 per hour to $14.
  • We increased annual salaries of our case managers, who provide support to home bound low-income seniors, from $31,000 to $35,000 per year. Often, case managers will leave our agency and work for the State in a comparable role with a 40% increase is salary.
  • In attempt to compete with hospitals, we raised the salaries of our licensed clinicians from $45,000 to $52,000 per year.
  • We distributed over $200,000 in basic human needs and housing support.

It is our role as a community based human service provider, with a 155-year history in Rhode Island, to be responsive and nimble when our services are most needed. We made these changes in the face of an unprecedented crisis because we had to. Our financial model is a fragile balance between contracts with state agencies, philanthropy, and grants.

This Governor and General Assembly is sitting on something like $1.5 billion in federal funds specifically intended to back fill the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable families and communities. Where is the sense of urgency on the part of the part of State agency leadership, the Governor, and General Assembly?  Who gets it? Child & Family has requested rate increases in state contracts based on these new salary increases with a blanket response that the funds are not available. If we are not able to keep up with competitive wages for essential workers, guess what – some programs and supports will not be available to the community. We are not there yet but we are getting very close. I get urgent calls from those we serve. Governor, Members of the General Assembly, take this as an urgent call.

Marty Signature
Marty Sinnott
President & CEO, Child & Family
(401) 848-412