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DES MOINES, Iowa — Families and organizations specializing in services that care for disabled Iowans made their best funding pitch to state legislators Wednesday.

Groups like Candeo Iowa say the pandemic and lack of Medicaid funding from the state is creating chaos. It has caused them to pull services from Iowans with lifelong disabilities.

Merry Gerzema’s adult son Tim has a lifelong disability. She used her time inside the Capitol to put legislators in her shoes.

“If it was their loved one requiring 24/7 care in a nursing home or wherever they might be and they get a call that says you got a week and we have to send your loved one home because we don’t have the staff to take care of them anymore and we can’t tell you how long it is going to be,” said Merry.

The Iowa Association of Community Providers hoped to sway legislators for a 6.5% increase in funding to help what they say is a workforce crisis. CEO of Candeo Iowa Marcy Davis says employees are leaving the profession of disability support services because the wages are not a representation of the critical services they provide. Merry Gerzema was given just one week’s notice that her son Tim and his roommate Ben Jones would no longer receive the Medicaid-funded services that allowed them each to live independently with a lifelong disability. She was able to speak to a couple of elected leaders. Increasing funding would increase wages and increase the chance to give disabled Iowans like Tim and Ben the life they deserve.

The IACP says their average hourly wage of direct support professional is set at $13.18 by Iowa Medicaid and can only be increased by legislation. It is currently well below employees at Woodward Resource Center averaging $20.59. The Amazon Warehouse average sits at $17.90. A Fareway cashier is averaging $14.00/hr and Walmart checkers are averaging $13.96.

The IACP says direct support professionals are just eighteen cents above the average hourly wage of a Mcdonald’s crew member. It was a message State Representative and Republican Eddie Andrews seemed to take to heart. “When you talk about increasing funding which we certainly need to do for these families there is nothing like hearing their personal stories. We have to increase funding to make their lives better,” said Andrews.

Tim and Ben’s parents still have not found a housing solution for their sons who remain at home. The IACP says 94% of Iowa’s community providers have direct support professional job vacancies at this time.