Credit: The Odessa File
#Bfair2DirectCare campaign gains momentum"
New York State legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo are in the homestretch of enacting a new state budget by April 1.
The 2017-2018 state budget will total approximately $153 billion. It will address important challenges and issues from agriculture to transportation. The new budget is going to restore vital state support for numerous farm-related programs and services. It will provide critical funding for conservation, education, health care, heroin and opioid addiction treatment and recovery, job creation, libraries, roads and bridges, and water quality.
All of the challenges and crises being addressed by this budget are worthy in their own rights. Nevertheless, there may not be a priority more important than last week’s Senate-Assembly agreement to include $45 million to compensate direct service professionals (DSPs) for their work supporting people with disabilities.
The state’s budget adoption process is under way in earnest. Last week both houses of the Legislature adopted our respective versions of what we’d like to see included in the final, 2017-2018 state budget. This week we’re convening public, joint budget conference committees to begin ironing out differences before entering into final budget negotiations with the governor. By the way, you can view these conference committees live this week on my Senate website: http://www.omara.nysenate.gov.
Therefore, it’s extremely important that the Senate and Assembly have already agreed on direct care funding. We want to address the lack of funding Governor Cuomo proposes to help appropriately adjust salaries at not-for-profits that employ workers who provide state services for individuals with autism, serious brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities.
In my view, this is an absolute priority. We cannot afford to risk the health and well-being of people with disabilities because New York State fails to invest in a stable, long-term workforce of trained and skilled direct care professionals.
Currently, many direct service professionals (DSPs) earn an average of $10-$13 per hour -- just above the state’s minimum wage. Last year, the state implemented minimum wage increases that did not provide funding to account for the “compression factor” -- the need to increase the salaries for more experienced DSPs and supervisors in order to maintain the current salary gap with minimum wage workers. Without this new funding provided to the DSP employers providing services on behalf of the state, the salary gap will compound the existing high turnover rate among those providing these critical services, and lead to significantly increased vacancies as qualified individuals seek less strenuous minimum wage work.
In early January, together with my area colleagues Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, I joined representatives from the Arcs of Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties, DSPs and parents of people with disabilities for a rally at the Arnot Mall in support of the “BFair2DirectCare” campaign.
Assemblyman Palmesano said, “Direct support professionals are the heart and soul of these organizations. 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.”
Arc of Steuben Executive Director Bernie Burns added, “Our system faces a work-force crisis, the likes of which we’ve never seen. The system is in chaos, perhaps even on the verge of collapsing. When it fails, who will take care of the people with developmental disabilities?”
Arc of Schuyler Executive Director Jeannette Frank spoke directly to the governor when she stated, “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. But nonprofits that hire and train staff to support people with disabilities cannot keep up with New York’s minimum wage increases without a revenue adjustment from the state.”
In addition, Arc of Chemung Executive Director Mike Doherty straightforwardly said, “We need to make sure we get the governor’s attention. We need to continue to fight.”
The fight gained positive momentum with the Senate and Assembly agreement. In the coming days, we’ll enter into final negotiations with Governor Cuomo, who has not yet supported this action.
So I’ll repeat now what I said back in January: Write letters to Governor Cuomo. Send emails. Make phone calls.