Get our newsletters

In Warminster, Shapiro rallies support for his budget’s ID/A funding


For 24 years, Shnica Smith has worked at BARC Developmental Services, a Warminster-based nonprofit agency that provides early intervention, residential and vocational programs for more than 700 people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

“We have such a good caring staff here,” said Smith, who is assistant production manager in the Warminster workshop where she helps clients in vocational programs. “We all dedicate our time and our life here. I love the place I work at and I appreciate everyone here.”

But, even after nearly a quarter-century at BARC, Smith needs a second job. So she also works at Wal-Mart.

Smith is trained as a direct support professional, which means she can administer medications, build behavioral support plans, manage mental health crises, work with medically fragile individuals and maintain current CPR and first aid certifications.

Some DSPs work at places like BARC. Others provide these services in the homes of their clients.

Increased demand for DSPs in a post-COVID world, coupled with high turnover among caregivers due to poor pay in a job that’s physically and emotionally demanding, has left thousands of Pennsylvania families sitting on waiting lists.

Due to what people in the field suggest is the chronic underfunding of state-contracted nonprofit organizations like BARC, DSPs are only able to be paid about $15 an hour, according to the governor’s office.

“If we get more money maybe I won’t have to work two jobs and I can spend more time with my family and help take care of my grandson, who is autistic,” Smith said.

Smith and others in her field told Gov. Josh Shapiro their stories Wednesday when the governor visited BARC to elevate the need for funding that he says his state budget will provide — if the legislature passes it.

“For too long, frankly, our state has not looked out for you,” Shapiro said during his visit. “It hasn’t made sure the staff got paid a fair wage for the important work they do and has made it harder for (organizations) to staff up.”

The proposed budget includes $483 million in government funding for service providers. The money, the governor reasons, will allow organizations like BARC to pay a higher wage, which will improve retention and help shorten those waiting lists for services.

“The DSP vacancy rate here at BARC Developmental Services is about 48 percent and that’s a high percentage...” said Mary Sautter, BARC executive director. “That means there’s a lot of staff working a lot of overtime hours and managers working extra shifts to fill in those gaps. We need to address that.”

With the governor on Wednesday was PA Human Services Secretary Val Arkoosh, who, like Shapiro, once served as a Montgomery County Commissioner.

“Let me be very clear. The governor proposes the budget but we need that general assembly to actually pass it,” she said. “So make sure to let your legislators know how you feel about that. But when this budget gets passed, it will help us carry out one of our top goals, which is to make sure that people have the right services at the right time.”

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.