New Horizons Support Services is located about 10 minutes from the Upper Marlboro, Md. home where Lorenzo Green, a Black man, lives and takes care of his 35 year-old son Jonathan who has spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spinal cord.

Jonathan Green is holding loaf of bread, supplied by his father, to show that the wages the working receive has not kept pace with the prices of basic food groups. (Photo by Hamil Harris)

For Green, a 74-year-old divorced father, the staff who care for his son at New Horizons do more than take care of his son during the day. They are family. He said every-time a staff member leaves for another job his son his sad.

“When they leave it is like a loss of a family member, it is always a challenge,” Green told the AFRO. He, along with his son and more than 100 other people, took part in an April 11 protest in Upper Marlboro where a coalition of service providers called on Prince George’s County officials to increase funding to programs that serve people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Wages for care workers have not increased even though living and food expenses have. “Fifteen years ago bread cost $1.29 and today it cost $2.18, but the staff is at the same pay. They are way underfunded,” Green said.

Ande Kolp , chairperson of the Prince Georges Provider Council, said that Prince George’s County is one of two jurisdictions in the state that didn’t adjust funding to their programs when the county raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“We are facing critically high levels of turnover in the county and it is already approaching 50 percent,” Kolp told the AFRO. “It is already a direct support problem through out the nation. It is a desperate problem in Prince George’s County because there are such low wages and because we have a higher minimum wage requirement.”

Kolp said the staff members who provide most of the services to people with disabilities mostly make minimum wage and because most of the funding to these programs comes from the State of Maryland, the county needs to close the gap in what they provide to agencies.

A spokesman for County Executive Rushern Baker said that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was responsible for the inadequate funding, and while some County Council members talk privately about closing the funding gap, more money has not been added.

Bea Rodgers, a spokesperson for the Provider Council, said that their organization supports 2800 clients. “Our clients come from PGPS and are reflect the demographics of the school systems,” Rodgers said. According to Census data, the school system is majority Black. “We are asking for $ 3.4 million. The state is not making up the shortfall. Many of our staff members are working two jobs and working long hours.”

Rodgers said coalition members are meeting with four Prince George’s Council members on April 19 to search for additional funds.

Cynthia Winston, 37, a former care provider for Calmra, a community based residential service provider based in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, who is now a supervisor, told the AFRO that she just doesn’t understand why Baker isn’t more sympathetic to the plight of those who care for people with disabilities.

“It is very hard to keep people in this field,” Winston said. “Some people work 16 hour shifts because paying people for eight hours is not enough. We put in a lot of hours caring for people with intellectual disabilities but we are not compensated and we are often not able to care for our own families.”