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Disabled and their caregivers ask for more pay

Karen DeWitt

New York faces fiscal challenges in 2018, but that has not stopped groups from asking for more money in the new state budget, including agencies that provide care to people with disabilities.

Chanting, “Be fair to direct care,” about 200 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, along with their family members and caregivers, gathered in a reception area outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Wednesday to ask for more help in paying the workers more money. 

Earlier this year, the groups successfully lobbied for an additional $55 million in subsidies in the state budget that will be phased in over the next four years. It goes to nonprofit groups that care for the about 130,000 New Yorkers with autism, brain injuries, Down syndrome and other disabilities to help them keep pace with the state-mandated increases in the state’s minimum wage. 

But Tom McAlvanah with the Interagency Council, which represents many of the nonprofits in the downstate area, said that even with the subsidies, caregivers are leaving for other jobs where the pay is higher. 

“Our vacancy can climb as high as 30 percent,” McAlvanah said. “How are we going to provide quality services if we don’t have the staff to do them?” 

Mike Brooks of Cobleskill, who relies on caregivers for some services, said the constant staff turnover is disruptive.

“People with disabilities and their families suffer the most serious effects of staff turnover,” Brooks said. 

The groups are asking the governor and lawmakers to accelerate the schedule for increasing the subsidies to three years. And they’ve received bipartisan support. Sen. George Amedore is a Republican who represents the parts of the Hudson Valley. 

“We need to hurry up, speed it up and properly fund it directly,” Amedore said.

The state has a multibillion-dollar projected deficit next year, but Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Schenectady-area Republican, said legislators should not be deterred.

“The comptroller said we have a $4.5 billion deficit,” Tedisco said. “So what?” 

Tedisco said the “most challenged” in the state should be funded first. 

“Then we can think about everybody else,” Tedisco said.

Retired Democratic Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg of Long Island is a longtime champion of disabled people’s rights and has a son who is developmentally disabled. He said staff shortages can lead to inadequate care and even abuse.

The governor was in Albany, and his offices are down the hall from where the rally took place. But Cuomo did not emerge, even though Weisenberg brought a cake and the protesters honored the governor on his 60th birthday. 

An aide accepted the cake on behalf of the governor instead.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.