BOSTON (SHNS) – Organizations that advocate for people with intellectual and development disabilities said Thursday that they are worried about a possible workforce crisis at community-operated group homes as a result of a disparity that emerged when the state recently agreed to boost pay for caregivers working in Massachusetts state hospitals and group homes.

The state and the union representing licensed nurses and caregivers in state hospitals and group homes struck a deal Sunday night to increase pay by as much as $10 an hour for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency. About 6,500 front-line health workers whose jobs put them at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus stand to benefit from the hazard pay.

But that increase for one segment of the care-giving workforce exacerbates a disparity that already exists between the state workforce and community-based human service agencies and while many community-based agencies are upping the pay for their workers, the Arc of Massachusetts and Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts said those providers can’t keep pace with the state.

“Given the already existing pay inequities for provider agencies in comparison to wages paid by the state for the same work, it has become exponentially more challenging for community-based agencies to fill critical human service job openings. Many of our staff work two jobs to provide for their families as it is, and this hazard pay agreement between the state and its employees only exacerbates that inequity,” officials from The Arc wrote in an op-ed. “We fear that in the absence of action on the part of the administration to align the compensation of [direct service providers] in state-run facilities and community-based agencies, we will have a workforce crisis on our hands. We are actively managing a healthcare crisis: this is the worst possible time for a workforce crisis.”

The fear is that caregivers currently working in community-based settings could flee for higher-paying state jobs, putting the care of thousands of people in jeopardy in the middle of a pandemic. The Arc urged its supporters to contact legislators and the administration to ask that the hazard pay agreement be extended to community-based providers as well.

The organization said that community-based “agencies have been providing modest pay adjustments without full reimbursement but now agencies require further funding to keep pace with the workers in other settings.”

“While they may not be as visible as health care workers, first responders, and those who are working on the front lines in grocery stores and delivery services, community-based human services staff are putting themselves at risk to support the individuals that they serve. They support a largely invisible population and they do it without fanfare. They are working in group homes, providing vital assistance to individuals with an [intellectual disability or developmental disability] in their homes, coordinating medical services, and executing personalized support plans for families among many other tasks,” The Arc wrote. “Bottom line? The entire ID/DD workforce is essential. Without them, the consequences to the people they serve would be catastrophic.”

Also Thursday, Framingham Rep. Maria Robinson announced that she had filed a bill (HD 5031) that would require businesses with six or more employees where workers are deemed essential to pay those workers time-and-a-half for their in-person work.

“With grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, and other essential workers putting their health and potentially their lives on the line, the very least we can do is ensure they are adequately compensated,” Robinson said. “We have always known that these workers are absolutely essential to our way of life, but they have never been paid in ways that reflect that. This is the first step we must take to equitably provide for our low-wage workers.”

The bill, which would make the premium pay retroactive to the start of Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 23 emergency essential services order, got the backing Thursday of Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman.

“There are currently tens of thousands of essential workers in Massachusetts reporting to the job outside of their homes, putting their health and the health of their families on the line each day. These crucial workers we all depend on are on the front lines of exposure to this virus, in too many cases without the adequate personal protective equipment they so desperately need, and many are still struggling to pay their bills,” Tolman said. “These brave essential workers deserve hazard pay, and we are thankful to Representative Robinson for filing this important legislation.”