© 2023 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Care Crisis: New Yorkers speak at White House discussion on Better Cares Better Jobs Act

Evening settles over the White House.
Win McNamee
Getty Images

This story originally aired August 13, 2021.

In New York State, currently one in four Direct Support Professional positions sit vacant. This issue was at the center of a White House discussion about President Biden's Better Cares Better Jobs Act on Thursday.

Many agencies across the state have been advocating for more investments into disability services, in hopes that more direct support professionals, or DSPs, will come into the profession if provided a living wage.

Michael Iteme, a DSP from Staten Island, spoke a the webinar, saying that every week, he works two full time jobs, for a total of eighty hours a week to support his family.

Iteme says he continues to stay in this field because of the impact it makes on peoples’ lives and that he believes an investment into the care economy is also an investment into his future.

“I am 45 years old today, but I will not be 45 years tomorrow. In time, is coming, I'm also going to need help. I'm gonna need support. I'm gonna need somebody to care for me. So what I'm doing for them today, I'm sowing a seed that I'm also going to reap tomorrow. This is the reason why I love what I do.”

Erik Geizer (geyser), CEO of The Arc New York, also spoke sharing that an investment into care infrastructure would also have an impact on the economy overall.

“If you don't believe that investing in people is important to our economy, we want to remind you that the ARC New York contributes $1.3 billion in salaries and benefits and generates close to $800 million in economic activity from employee and vendor spending in New York State.”

An underlying focus of this event was President Biden’s Better Cares Better Jobs Act. AHRC, who also cosponsored the White House webinar with the ARC, states that the act would enhance Medicaid funding for Home and Community-Based Services and promote the recruitment and retention of Direct Support Professionals.

For Iteme, he says he’s seeing more and more of his coworkers leaving the field, and he also fears for his future, working as much as he has to. He told the forum a co-worker passed away, just six months after finally retiring.

“It shouldn't be that way. I fear for myself for that. I don't want that to happen to me," said Iteme.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.