How wages for state-funded caregivers are impacting those with disabilities

Some of Wayne Becker’s most beloved pastimes include hunting and going to Round Rock Express games.

However, an all-time favorite is scuba diving.

"It's the best thing ever to be able to do," said Becker. "I feel like I'm normal, like with everyone else just floating along, you know?"

When Becker says ‘normal,’ he means having the ability to walk or move his arms. Becker lives with quadriplegia.

"I've been in a wheelchair 43 years now," he said. The accident happened when he was playing a weekend pickup football game as a young adult.


As someone living with quadriplegia, Becker relies on a daily caregiver to even get out of bed in the morning.

"I also require someone in the evening to prepare a meal and put me in bed and do some cleaning, and this is just something I need every day to live my life," he said.

He also no longer has his closest companion and support system. Becker lost his wife of more than 20 years about 15 months ago.

"Ever since then, some days my caregiver calls and has to go to an appointment or something. And I call the agency and they tell me, ‘We just don't have anybody for you,’" he said. "So I'm stuck in bed on those days for sometimes 20 hours, with no one here to even give me a drink of water or food, or be able to turn over in bed to keep myself from getting a pressure sore."

Marjorie Costello has seen Wayne Becker’s story play out in other lives in recent years while working at an agency that connects state-funded caregivers with clients. Disability Services of the Southwest is a nonprofit home care agency that provides services to people with disabilities in different Medicaid programs across the state.

"If you can't get out of bed, you can't live a life," said Costello, chief administrative officer at DSSW.

However, fewer and fewer caregivers are sticking around due to how they are compensated.

"Once the pandemic hit and inflation hit, people were more concerned about going into other people's homes, and then when inflation hit, everything just cost so much more. When that happened, we went straight into a crisis," she said. "We went into a crisis where our caregivers, probably 50% of them, had to leave."

It has devastated those with disabilities.

"When they don't have that support system, what do they do? They sit in their homes alone. They soil themselves, and they can't clean themselves because nobody is there to help them. They don't eat. They don't get out of bed," said Costello. "It is a tragedy and it's not the way that they need to spend this latter portion of their life, and then they end up in a hospital or they end up in a nursing facility which is three times more expensive than us."


In the fall of 2023, state legislators approved a caregiver raise from $8.11 an hour to $10.60 an hour.

"They could easily go and get a job for $15 an hour at a swath of fast food or convenience stores," said Costello. "We're dealing with people who are broken-hearted because they can't financially survive off of this wage, so they have to leave a person that they've been caring for for so long and that they love."

Additionally, because of how it was implemented, opportunity for overtime was taken away, and some agencies cut PTO and healthcare to afford to pay their caregivers the new wage.

"I commend the legislature for passing it and trying to do what's right. 100% they tried to do what's right," said Costello. "It just, in application, did not work out that way."

Costello said there are three main changes they are asking for: that the work caregivers do would be more valued, that they would be given a level playing field when it comes to compensation and that a cost of living increase every two years would be put into law.

They’re asking on behalf of people like Wayne Becker, who was given less than six months to replace his current caregiver. She can’t afford it anymore.

"I don't feel like after working so many years, owning my own home, that I should be forced out of it to be put in a nursing home," said Becker. "I don't feel I'm sick enough to be in a nursing home or at the end of my life when most people end up in a nursing home."


He has a lot of life to live - scuba diving included.

"It's hard to live a life in a wheelchair but, you know, you make an adjustment and you decide whether you want to just do nothing and waste away, or whether you want to go on and be positive and live your life," said Becker. "I feel like if I can encourage others that are in the same situation myself, that I've done my part and hopefully people will be encouraged to go on another day whenever it gets hard."

In February, Becker and other members of ADAPT of Texas and the Personal Attendant Coalition of Texas (PACT) rallied at the Governor’s mansion and delivered a letter asking for better wages.

"I think Governor Abbott should know, himself being disabled, what the importance of this would be," said Becker.

FOX 7 reached out to the chairs of the Human Services Committee, Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and Governor Abbott’s office and hasn’t gotten a response.