Disabled Massachusetts Residents Are Languishing without Services

In a Haverhill, Massachusetts, group home for people with brain injuries Donnie Duggan proudly nodded at a painting of Fenway Park in Boston that he had created. He took some artistic liberty, painting the Green Monster, the iconic left field wall, in bright crimson.

The painting was one of dozens he created before the pandemic while attending a day program in Newburyport for adults with developmental challenges. The program reopened following a closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic , but Duggan has been unable to return because the program lacks the necessary staff to support him.

In 2001, Duggan was in a terrible car accident that left him paralyzed on his left side. Due to his disabilities, and size, Duggan frequently requires at least two people to help transfer him and assist him with activities of daily living.

At day programs like the one Duggan once attended, participants take part in activities like fitness and arts and crafts while learning communication and life skills. He said that he misses his friends and finds his group home’s daily schedule to be monotonous.

According to advocates, up to 3,000 Massachusetts residents are waiting to be placed in these day programs, which are crucial. They believe that because there aren’t enough applicants for these low-paying positions, individuals like Duggan are left without access to services.

One of the primary concerns for state government raised by GBH’s “Have Your Say: Gov. Healey’s Agenda” project is a serious shortage of day programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The governor wants to allocate $200 million in her budget for the next fiscal to help fund day programs managed by MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program.

However, only about half of these kinds of day programs are financed by MassHealth. Advocates say that even if the Legislature does approve the money, it won’t be enough to resolve the issue. The Department of Developmental Services oversees the remaining facilities.

In order to fund the day programs provided by the Department of Developmental Services, advocates are requesting an increase of $5.6 million. They’re also advocating for new legislation that would mandate the state to pay better wages to employees in those programs.

The state pays employees at day programs around $16 an hour. However, the minimum wage is just a dollar less at $15. Mike Hyland, president and CEO of Venture Community Services says that most people work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Living in Massachusetts is expensive. The cost of living index shows that the price of housing in Massachusetts is roughly 117% higher than the national average. According to CBS News Boston, inflation, land expenses, labor, and supplies all contribute to the increased cost.

In addition, the transportation cost-of-living index is 34% more than the national average, and the utilities cost-of-living index is around 21% higher than the rest of the country.

Families of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are also impacted by the lack of programs. Bobby, Carrie Howland’s 23-year-old son, has Down syndrome. He lives with his family in Scituate. 

He has a number of medical issues. Howland stated that she would like to work . However is unable to do so because she does not have help monitoring Bobby during the week.

Howland needs surgery on her knees. However, she keeps delaying it due to the lack of day programs available for her son. “I can’t risk not being able to recover from a major surgery — I need it on both of my knees — until I know that he is completely covered,” Howland said. “And we’re nowhere near having an option.”

Direct support professionals are crucial for many disabled people to live in their communities including me. Since birth, I have required hands-on care due to Cerebral Palsy. My PCAs (personal care assistants) are some of the most hardworking, dedicated people I’ve ever met. They should be paid fairly.

Disabled people across Massachusetts need access to home and community based services. Donnie Dugan misses his friends. “Seeing people every day, seeing them personally, it hits a spot in your heart,” Duggan said. However, low pay keeps many people from taking these jobs which means people like Dugan are stuck at home.


DeCosta-Klipa, Nik. “After $15, What’s next for the Mass. Minimum Wage?” WBUR News, Boston University, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.wbur.org/news/2023/02/16/fight-for-15-minimum-wage-healey-budget-covid-booster-body-cam-newsletter.

LeMoult, Craig. “Thousands of Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Have Lost Access to Day Programs in Mass..” WGBH, WGBH Educational Foundation, 27 Apr. 2023, https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2023/04/27/thousands-of-adults-with-intellectual-and-developmental-disabilities-have-lost-access-to-day-programs-in-mass.

Measom, Cynthia. “10 Most Expensive States to Live In.” GOBankingRates, GOBankingRates, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.gobankingrates.com/money/economy/most-expensive-states-to-live-in/.

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