As Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to unveil his 2017-18 budget, about 100 advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities gathered at the Arnot Mall to send the governor a message – be fair to direct care.
Representatives from the Arcs of Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben, including direct support professionals (DSPs), self-advocates, and parents of people with disabilities rallied at the Arnot Mall Thursday in support of increased pay for DSPs, who work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on a daily basis.
Arc representatives were joined by State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, and Assemblymen Chris Friend, R-Big Flats, and Phil Palmesano, R-Corning. All three legislators had previously expressed their support for additional funds in the 2017-18 budget for human-services agencies like Arcs that provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their support included signed letters to the governor.
“Direct support professionals are the heart and soul of these organizations,” Palmesano said. “The work you do is truly God’s work. You need to light the governor’s switchboard like a Christmas tree. We are talking about the most vulnerable members of society.”
Arcs across New York State have joined with other human-service agencies in the #BeFair2DirectCare campaign, asking the governor to include an additional $45 million per year in the next six budgets to offset the impact the increase in minimum wage will have on agencies that rely on government funding.
“Our system faces a work-force crisis, the likes of which we’ve never seen,” said Bernie Burns, executive director of the Arc of Steuben. “The system is in chaos, perhaps even on the verge of collapsing. When it fails, who will take care of the people developmental disabilities? $45 million is a small amount of money, but we need it. It’s the right thing to do.”
Jeannette Frank, executive director for the Arc of Schuyler, implored the governor to hear the pleas of his constituents.
“Governor Cuomo, we know that you know that New York needs a trained and skilled workforce to provide the highly individualized help and support people with disabilities need to stay healthy and have a meaningful life,” Frank said. “But nonprofits that hire and train staff to support people with disabilities can not keep up with New York’s minimum wage increases without a revenue adjustment from the state. We need $45 million in this year’s budget to avert a looming staffing crisis.”
Those attending the rally were asked to contact Governor Cuomo to express their support for increased funding for direct support professionals by signing letters and postcards that will be sent to the governor. They were also asked to urge their friends, family members, and colleagues to contact the governor.
“We need to make sure we get the governor’s attention to put $45 million in his budget,” said Mike Doherty, executive director of The Arc of Chemung. “We need to continue to fight for this. If it is not in the budget coming out, then it needs to be put into the 30 day amendment.”
O’Mara said supporters should not stop at one letter or phone call.
“This is an issue I’m committed to fight for,” O’Mara said. “Write letters, send emails, and make phone calls. I urge you to do all three as soon as possible.”
The governor is expected to release his preliminary budget in the next two weeks. It will be followed by negotiations between Cuomo and the legislature that will result in a final budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The state budget deadline is April 1.
Perhaps the most moving testimony came from Marie Dean. Dean had lived in one of The Arc of Chemung’s residences, but through her own hard work and the mentoring of direct support professionals, Dean not only gained her independence by getting her own apartment in the community, but also by being hired as a direct support professional by The Arc of Chemung.
“(Direct support professionals) do not give up on people with disabilities, no matter what,” Dean said. “Without these people, I wouldn’t be on my own. They have made a huge impact by caring, and being our friends, and helping us learn that we can be independent and our differences don’t mean anything.”
Supporters who wish to contact the governor can email gov.cuomo(at)chamber.state.ny.us.
They can also show their support by calling (518) 474-8390 or by writing to The Honorable Andrew H. Cuomo, NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, 12224.