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#bFair2DirectCare Urges Governor & Legislature to "Finish the Job" and Fund Living Wage for Direct Support Professionals

From NY Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation - January 11, 2019 E-Newsletter

#bFair2DirectCare Urges Governor & Legislature to "Finish the Job" and Fund Living Wage for Direct Support Professionals

A bipartisan collection of state lawmakers joined hundreds of parents, self-advocates and non-profits that support people with developmental disabilities in Albany and Poughkeepsie Thursday to call for funding that allows direct support professionals (DSPs) to finally receive a living wage.

Thursday’s rallies came as #bFair2DirectCare released data showing a worsening staffing crisis facing non-profit agencies that support persons with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. The 2018 survey found a vacancy rate of 14.3 percent and a turnover rate of 26.4 percent for direct support staff in #bFair2DirectCare non-profits agencies. The inability to attract and keep staff forced the non-profits to pay an astounding 12 million overtime hours in 2018 – up 17 percent from last year and adding $88 million in cost to the agencies’ already strained budgets. 

Former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, who served in the Assembly for 25 years and has a son, Ricky, with a developmental disability, said: “This is a critical issue. The crisis is here. If Albany doesn’t finish the job, the impact on people with developmental disabilities and their loving families will be like nothing anybody wants to experience.

“I know how things get done in the Capitol and I know the funding this community needs is loose change in a $160 billion annual budget,” said Weisenberg, author of the recently published book “For the Love of a Child: My Life, My City & My Mission.”

Yvette Watts, a parent and executive director of the New York Association of Emerging & Multicultural Providers, said: “The DSPs are the backbone to the agencies and the families they serve. Because of our family and the fantastic DSPs, my daughter is able to live an independent and full life. DSPs are part of all of our families and deserve a living wage to take care of their families.”

Brad Pivar of the parent-led StateWide Advocacy Network (SWAN) said: As the parent of a child with a developmental disability, you learn very quickly that the DSP workforce is the heart and soul of the service system. SWAN, our statewide coalition of family groups, strongly support the efforts of the #bFair2DirectCare campaign.”

Betsy Fels, a DSP from Columbia County, said: “This must be the year that my coworkers and I can stop worrying about finally receiving a living wage. We have families to support. And we have wonderful New Yorkers who need us and we need to be able to focus on our jobs without worrying about making ends meet.”

In 2017, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature included the first two years of a six-year plan to provide a living wage for direct care workers. However, funding has not been committed for the rest of the plan, leaving these non-profits in a perpetual staffing crisis and DSPs struggling to make ends meet. When fully implemented, the living wage for a DSP would be roughly $16.40/hour upstate, and roughly $17.80/hour in New York City.

Direct support professionals are highly trained in a wide variety of critical areas that include administering medications, giving first aid and CPR, behavioral interventions, supporting independent living and ensuring the safety and opportunity of those they support. They are employed by non-profit agencies who and provide services on behalf of the state government, at rates set by the government. Some 90 percent of these agencies’ funding comes from government. Unlike fast food and retail outlets, #bFair2DirectCare agencies cannot raise prices or automate services to reduce staffing costs.

Rallies took place at the New York State Capitol and Changepoint Church in Poughkeepsie. Lawmakers and other elected officials attending the Poughkeepsie rally included Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Columbia, Dutchess), Senator Sue Serino (R, C, IP-Hyde Park), Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro (R), and Thomas Gatto, Legislative Director for Assemblymember Aileen Gunther’s office (D, W, I-Forestburgh).

On Tuesday, January 8th, #bfair2DirectCare advocates gathered for the Developmental Disabilities Alliance in Western New York (DDAWNY) annual legislative breakfast to focus on the growing workforce shortages in the I/DD sector which is exacerbated by the lack of a living wage. Advocates, including the DDAWNY affiliated families understand and appreciate the New York State Legislature’s western delegation support of #bFair2DirectCare, which was apparent at the breakfast, though legislative and executive action must take place to reach that living wage.