- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A provision to raise pay for workers who help developmentally disabled people is still holding up the minimum wage bill. More than 200 developmentally disabled residents and their caregivers converged on Annapolis Wednesday to help push the provision through.

After crowding the meeting room of the Senate Finance Committee, a small delegation met with John Griffin, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chief of staff, to press for more money for the workers. On average, the workers make $9.82 an hour.

Griffin told the group that O’Malley believes they deserve the pay increase.

“We’re just trying to figure out how best to do that in the context of raising the minimum wage,” Griffin said.

The state provides wages to the workers, although they are hired by third-party agencies. The workers want to continue making 35 percent more than the current minimum wage of $7.25. If the legislature votes to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour, as O’Malley has requested, this would mean caregivers would average $13.64.

Sen. Thomas Middleton, the Finance Committee’s chairman, is negotiating with O’Malley’s staff. Since the raise would come straight out of the state budget, the challenge is settling on an amount the administration thinks the state can afford, Middleton said.

Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services, said she believed they were close to a compromise involving a raise of less than 35 percent. She called this “very reasonable.”

“It would provide a safety net,” she said.

Middleton said they might also slow down the phase-in period even further, so the minimum wage wouldn’t reach $10.10 until 2018 or later. The House’s bill already delayed that date to 2017, from O’Malley’s plan scheduling it for 2016.

Howell said the current pay rate of $9.82 an hour is from a rate system that’s been in place for about 15 years. It has risen along with budget increases.

She said these workers have stressful, demanding jobs. It’s already hard enough to keep the turnover rate down, and it would be much harder if their pay were barely above minimum wage, she said.

After their appearance at the Finance Committee, the group congregated on the Capitol steps and chanted, “Raise our wage!” They also filled boxes of letters and photos for O’Malley.

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