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Article updated: 2/3/2014 9:30 PM

Unions, nonprofits want higher caregiver pay

By

SPRINGFIELD -- Union leaders and nonprofit groups are asking Gov. Pat Quinn to support an effort to increase wages for people who care for the developmentally disabled.

The efforts comes on the heels of Quinn's push to increase Illinois' minimum wage, from its current $8.25 to $10 an hour, and is likely to be a divisive issue ahead of the November election.

The "Care Campaign" plans to deliver an estimated 10,000 post cards to Quinn's office on Tuesday to urge him to support the effort to increase caregivers' wages. The plan would establish starting wages for such workers and increase the amount Illinois gives to nonprofit groups that have state contracts to care for the developmentally disabled.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson did not immediately respond Monday for comment as to whether the governor supports such an initiative.

A recent Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities survey puts the wage of caregivers working at community-based developmental disability at $9.35 an hour, which it says leads to workers taking on overtime hours and second jobs or relying on food stamps.

Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME, the state's largest employee union, said Illinois has not increased reimbursement for such nonprofit groups to correspond with the cost of living increase, causing wages to fall behind. AFSCME represents some 5,000 workers employed by community-based nonprofit agencies, Lindall said.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, chair of the Senate appropriations committee, noted "the playing field hasn't been level for people who work for community-based agencies versus those who work directly for state agencies."

But some lawmakers argue that the state, which faces roughly a $6 billion backlog of bills this year, must deal with existing obligations before taking on new ones.

A tax increase approved in 2011 and billed as temporary is scheduled to roll back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent next January. If that happens, budget experts predict the state would have roughly $1.5 billion less to spend in 2015.

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