FARMINGTON — A local, private nonprofit devoted to supporting people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities in western and central Maine is headed for a financial cliff, its executive director said.

Darryl Wood, who heads Life Enrichment Advancing People said, “Unable to pay employees a living wage, the coming overtime rule and potential minimum wage increase would exacerbate the struggle to the point we would be hanging on by our toenails.”

With about 200 employees, retaining trained workers is a struggle, he said.

The starting wage of around $9 an hour for direct support professionals is not enough to live on, he said.

It is a tragedy when a dedicated employee has worked for LEAP for a decade or more and cannot afford an oil bill or new snow tires,” Wood said.

About 70 percent or more of a $6 million budget goes to employee salaries, he said.

The state set a reimbursement rate of $25 an hour for care in 2007. The rate includes the costs of equipment or things such as a $55,000 handicapped accessible van or a $25,000 bathroom renovation.

Since 2007, our rates of reimbursement have decreased 12 percent while inflation has increased 19 percent, resulting in a net decrease of 31 percent,” Wood said.

“We need to get rates up so we can pay a better wage, something in the $12 to $14 range,” he said.

Attempts to seek increases in the rates of reimbursement from MaineCare have fallen on deaf ears, he said.

“At this point, we need help from the Legislature, starting with our local legislators, to get this done,” Wood said.

LEAP started in 1980 after institutional care gave way to clients being moved into communities. LEAP provides care to about 50 clients 24/7 and community support to another 25 or so part time.

“Our inability to limit turnover due to wages impacts supported individuals significantly because of the communication, relationships and insecurities that arise from rotation of staff,” he said.

The new overtime rule under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act provides an exemption to overtime pay requirements for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The existing annual salary threshold for overtime exemption is $23,660. On Dec. 1, the threshold increases to $47,476. Caregiving entities, such as LEAP, have three years to comply, he said.

The new threshold is more than most salaried LEAP employees make, posing the potential for future overtime pay. 

A minimum wage increase could be another hit to the organization, he said.

“Without the ability to increase rates to adjust to escalating costs, the squeeze gets tighter and tighter, and it is our workers and supported individuals who take the brunt of it,” Wood said.

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