HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - In Pennsylvania, there are over 50,000 direct support professionals (DSPs) who provide care to tens of thousands of adults with autism or an intellectual disability. However, a funding crisis is making it extremely difficult to provide the essential care that so many depend on. 

“My daughter can’t even roll over without assistance. Imagine that being you when your morning staff doesn't show up and there is no one else,” said Lisa Butler. 

For Butler, and her daughter Sophia, DSPs are a lifeline. But with limited funds, many of these essential providers cannot afford to hire and retain workers, and are struggling to compete with companies who can.  

“The person asking ‘do you want fries with that’ should not earn more than someone who cares for our citizens, our friends, our children,” said Butler. 

State funding through the Department of Human Services (DHS) is a lifeline for DSPs and the services they provide. But this year, there's one major problem.  

“We did not receive any additional funding for direct support professional wages,” said Sherri Landis, Executive Director for the ARC of Pennsylvania.  

Landis says providers need a $430 million budget increase, about 20 percent, for wages to prevent a full collapse of the system.  

“The state relies on us, the providers, to provide those services. But the state is not giving us the funds to do our job,” said Landis.  

Without the increase, providers say 60,000 individuals are at risk of reduced essential services, or worse, losing those services altogether. More than 4,000 individuals have been dropped by providers just in the last three years. 

“There was a staffing crisis prior to the pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic escalated it even more,” said Landis. “This is becoming very problematic for individuals and families,” she added. 

“It's a no brainer,” said Butler. “Ladies and gentlemen, increase the funding for DSPs,” she added. 

Advocates say the $430 million increase would not only resume services for the 4,000+ that have been dropped, but would also help the additional 12,000 individuals on the waiting list. Almost half on the list are categorized as “emergency need.” 

Providers say they can’t simply raise prices to increase wages because their services are funded primarily by Medicaid. They say inadequate rate fees imposed by the state do not cover the true costs of their services.