Human service sector seeking higher wages from New York state
BUFFALO – Representatives of the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York from Buffalo and Rochester along with advocates, staff, and families Monday called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to intercede with Robert Mujica, Jr., director, New York State Division of the Budget, to direct essential funds to address the dire wage crisis causing the state’s developmental disability/human services infrastructure to collapse.
Specifically, the alliance is seeking to relieve the developmental disabilities staffing crisis by asking Cuomo to approve using $250 million of federal relief funds already in state coffers to pay a living wage to direct support professionals. In addition, the group is calling for the state legislature to quickly pass recently introduced legislation (Senate bill S6879) that would disallow cuts to reimbursements for residential habilitation services that are proposed to go into effect. Speaking at a morning news conference held in downtown Buffalo, Jeff Paterson, a member of the alliance Board of Directors, called the nearly 110,000 direct service professionals in residential homes and other facilities across the state “forgotten essential workers” and the “foundation of the service delivery system.”
“We’re here to sound the alarm,” said Paterson. “The developmental disabilities field is facing a severe workforce shortage due to the state’s refusal to pay for higher wages. It began several years ago, it has steadily gotten worse, and now it’s a full-blown crisis. We are calling on Governor Cuomo and our state leaders to act now. This cannot go on.”
The alliance’s three-point ask includes an effort to 1) “Stop the Cuts” by canceling a state-imposed funding cut on residential providers this month that will remove $238 million from its statewide system annually; 2) “Raise the Wage” by raising rates over three years to provide the staff professionals with a living wage; and 3)“Fund the Future” by instituting a 2-percent annual cost-of-living adjustment – the same type of increase the state gives to other sectors.
Paterson said vacant positions at alliance agencies have increased 34.5% since last year and 51.2% since 2019.
Denise Jones, chief executive officer of the The Resource Center said the state’s unwillingness to provide the funding necessary to pay direct support professionals a living wage is negatively impacting thousands of people in Chautauqua County.
“When we can’t hire enough staff to fill all of the shifts at the homes we operate in Chautauqua County, people living in our homes are not able to enjoy full and enriching lives.
“Equally important, our dedicated team of true heroes – staff who have stayed the course and have proven their commitment to the individuals they support through a public health crisis – are being asked,and unfortunately at times mandated, to work overtime to ensure we are able to cover the hours required to maintain health and safety.”