COLUMBUS — Average hourly pay for the workers who provide home and personal care to Ohioans with developmental disabilities would increase by 11 percent over the next two years — to $12.38 an hour — under a state budget proposal that seeks to address the worsening labor shortage.

If approved, the plan would mark the state's biggest effort yet to boost wages in an industry desperate to recruit and retain front-line employees. It also reflects a first-ever agreement between the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and county disabilities boards to split the roughly $22 million annual cost.

"It's great that we're finally getting attention to meet these needs," said Mark Schlater, the CEO of Toward Independence, a nonprofit agency in southwestern Ohio that serves people with disabilities. "I think everybody is focused and lasered on the fact that people with disabilities are suffering. We're literally not able to operate, not able to do what we need to do."

State disabilities department Director Jeff Davis, who testified last week before the House Finance Committee, says the workforce crisis is the biggest issue facing the disabilities system. The average hourly wage for a direct-support worker in Ohio sits at $11.12, too low to reflect the demands of the job and too low to attract an adequate supply of workers. Turnover rates are approaching 60 percent.

"If you do this position well, it asks for a lot," Davis said. "We could talk about it all day, what a good caregiver is. I'm empathetic."

As more Ohioans with disabilities live and work in their communities instead of large residential centers, the demand for support workers to provide one-on-one assistance has soared. Ohio doesn't directly employ the workers, but the state sets the rates that Medicaid pays companies and nonprofit agencies to provide the services.

The base reimbursement rate for Medicaid-covered home and personal services is about $20 an hour and would rise to $22 an hour by 2021 under the proposed two-year budget plan.

All provider agencies are expected to pass along the rate increase to workers in the form of raises, Davis said. State and county officials are pitching new accountability measures that would make agency-specific wage data publicly available. "I think that transparency will work," Davis said, as workers and families will be able to find out what different agencies are paying.

The proposal also would address the hourly reimbursement rates for overnight services, when workers can be sleeping on site but still are on call, to the current minimum wage of $8.55 an hour — up from $6.09.

"That will have great benefit," said Schlater, who helped to organize a support-worker rally last fall at the Statehouse. "That is a deficit we've been covering."

Adam Herman, spokesman for the Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities, said the proposal would mark the first "meaningful increase" for rates and wages in 14 years.

"We're grateful that the state is willing to help pay for this, because it is necessary," he said. "People with disabilities cannot live a life of their own choosing because there aren't enough people in the system to support them."

Herman and others acknowledged that the 11 percent bump, if approved by lawmakers during the budget process, isn't sufficient to solve the problems. "But if we don't do something now, it will only get worse," he said. "At the end of the day, we have to address this."