The Executive Director for enVision Community Living in Steinbach says it feels like they have finally been heard. Jeannette DeLong made that comment following a provincial funding announcement.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Families Minister Rochelle Squires made the joint announcement, committing nearly $29 million towards supporting disability services and increasing the wages of staff that provide them. Community Living disABILITY Services (CLDS) providers supporting adults with intellectual disabilities will receive $10 million in new funding from Budget 2022 to increase front-line wages to a minimum-funded baseline rate of $15.11 per hour for direct services workers and $16.11 per hour for supervisors.

The program will also increase service rates to day service providers by 2.7 per cent to support improved wages and their recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

"We were very pleased to hear the announcement," says DeLong. "It feels like it has been a long time coming."

DeLong says for many years they have been talking to the provincial government about the inadequate funding for their direct support professionals and for services for people who live with an intellectual disability. DeLong adds she was pleased to hear the funding announcement was substantial.

In an interview last week, DeLong admitted that they are not entirely sure how this new funding will roll out. She notes those details are yet to come.

"We certainly hope that it's going to benefit all of our direct support professionals, whether they are in residential services or day services or employment services and our support independent living services," she notes.

According to DeLong, enVision has been in a labour crisis for decades. And, she says the pandemic over the last two years has only exacerbated that problem. She notes when they are short-staffed it impacts the services they are able to provide. This in turn impacts the lives of those they serve.

"We lost a lot of staff over the last two years and so not everybody has been able to return," she adds. "And so we're hoping that this will start the ball rolling for us to be a little more stable in that area as well."

DeLong points out that enVision is almost 100 per cent dependent on government funding. She notes the enVision Foundation does fundraising for capital costs and other items that are not covered by government. But, when it comes to their overhead, including operations and wages, they are dependent on government funding.

She notes over the years it has been a challenge trying to hire and retain staff. Because other sectors pay significantly higher wages, DeLong says enVision is often a training ground and it can be very difficult to attract potential employees who have experience or are educated in the field.

"Sometimes people just find they can't live off the wages that are funded and that we are able to pay and so sadly they move on," she admits. "There's a lot of people who when they leave our organization express how much they love their job, they just can't afford to stay working in this sector and that's a tremendously sad story."

One of the realities is that many of their employees have second jobs, just to make ends meet. DeLong says this is the case, not only with their direct support professionals, but also staff at the management level. Yet, she says their direct support professionals wear many hats, including being advocates and employment specialists, but also needing to be able to carry out occupational therapy and physical therapy. They also administer medications and teach people with daily living skills, while helping them cope with mental health issues.

"It's troublesome that the value of the work that our people do, is just not fully recognized," she points out. "So this is good news, step one."

DeLong says a big thank you to all those who have communicated their concerns to government. She believes this announcement is a result of those lobbying efforts.