Employers in the disabilities field face worker shortage in the Ozarks

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Organizations supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities face a workforce crisis. One of those is The Arc of the Ozarks.

The Arc of the Ozarks employs a thousand staff members in southwest Missouri who work as direct support professionals. That means they work one-on-one with people with disabilities. Their goal is to help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities successfully live and work in their communities.

Some of their duties include providing medical support, behavioral support, teaching skills, and doing crisis intervention. They work with people with disabilities in their homes, at their jobs, and any where life takes them. They may spend 20 hours a week or much more with the person.

Donna Scott loves her work, but the Arc of the Ozarks has trouble keeping direct support professionals like her. Right now, about 25 percent of their positions are vacant. The starting pay in Missouri is at $9.71 per hour. And the median wage is less than a $1 higher. About a third of direct support professionals in Missouri are on Medicaid and food stamps.

"If we increase the wages and we can get it to a living wage, not only does it help the taxpayers, but it significantly helps people ultimately with disabilities in our communities, and the staff that are there to support them," said Tim Dygon.

An increase in funding to increase direct support professionals' pay would take action by the state legislature. Lawmakers proposed adding an additional $12.6 million. But Arc of the Ozarks administration says that's not enough to fix the problem.