Disability service providers say they need more state funding, higher wages
The workers at Cornerstone Services in Joliet say they need higher wages and more help from state government to continue effectively serving the vulnerable every day.
Cornerstone serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness through a variety of programs.
Ben Stortz, the president and CEO of Cornerstone, said the state government has basically kept funding steady over the past decade, despite growing costs.
He said that’s led to the organization struggling to hire and keep workers. About 14% of Cornerstone’s staff positions remain open.
“We’re making sure people are getting services but just not the quality that we’d like to have,” Stortz said. “People’s lives are being affected.”
Stortz said those openings have led to staff members needing to work a lot of overtime and having to work with the bare minimum number of workers.
About 85% of Cornerstone’s revenue comes from the state government, with 9% coming from the federal government, 4% from miscellaneous sources and 2% from fundraising.
Cornerstone Services was founded in 1969 as the Will County Sheltered Workshop by concerned citizens and parents of people with disabilities.
This year, more than 1,100 people with disabilities depend on Cornerstone Services every day for assistance living and working in the community.
Staffers such as Carol Mobley, 48, help clients who live by themselves and make sure they can go to activities or jobs of their own.
Mobley, a house manager at Cornerstone who has worked there for
27 years, said the lack of funding and low wages has made serving clients more difficult.
Although it can be frustrating to struggle to find new workers or retain those who want to leave for higher pay elsewhere, Mobley said that also negatively affects the people they serve.
“We have to enjoy what we do,” Mobley said. “And it cannot be for the money because we’ll all be gone.”
Mobley said it makes their jobs more difficult when there is turnover among staff members because of how it might affect clients.
Stortz said consistent staffing is needed to develop a rapport. More turnover can lead to clients struggling.
“As [employees] come in and then they realize how much they’re getting paid, they leave,” said Tajohnna Ulmer, a Cornerstone employee. “And they don’t realize that they’ve impacted the clients at the same time because the clients get attached.”
The agency also has had to cut down on programs and close a couple of the homes it has for clients. Stortz said that with adequate funding, they’d want to expand services, not reduce them.
Cornerstone also has had to compete with the growing logistics industry, with many potential employees opting for jobs in warehouses and distribution centers. There, they find higher pay than exists in disability services.
Mobley said she’s seen a lot of turnover in the group of five to six people that she’s supervised. Almost all the individuals she oversees now have second jobs.
Stortz said that Illinois’ decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour also could increase competition for potential employees.
Some of the workers who have been at Cornerstone for well over a decade said they now have children working in the fast food industry who make more than they do.
Stortz said the state should ensure disability service workers across Illinois are paid enough so they can adequately help their clients.
“These jobs cannot be viewed as minimum-wage jobs,” Stortz said.