© 2024 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:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Advocates demand more state funds to pay for those who care for people with disabilities

Karen Dewitt

State lawmakers with disabled children, along with people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers, rallied Monday at the State Capitol for more money in the budget to pay caregivers a living wage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature approved a gradual minimum wage increase to $15 an hour downstate and $12.50 an hour upstate, saying mega-companies like McDonald’s and Burger King can afford to pay their workers more.

But agencies that care for those with developmental disabilities said they aren’t for-profit entities with large profit margins. They rely on Medicaid reimbursements from the state to care for about 130,000 people with developmental disabilities in New York.

And they said that without a higher rate of reimbursement from the government, they won’t be able to afford the increased wage when it phases in over the next couple of years.

They have some strong allies within the Legislature. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of Schenectady has a son with autism. He spoke at the rally at the State Capitol, praising what he called the “amazing” care his son gets from his caregivers.

“We need a fair wage for our direct care workers,” said Santabarbara. “These are the people that are changing lives.”

The groups want $45 million added to the state budget for each of the next six years to make up the difference it would cost to pay the higher wage.

Former lawmakers also spoke out. Harvey Weisenberg of Long Island has a disabled son and was an activist for disabled rights during his time in the Assembly.

“Unfortunately, people in government just don’t understand,” Weisenberg said. “That these people are getting paid less money taking care of your loved ones than people flipping hamburgers.”

Tom Reynolds, a former congressman and former Assembly minority leader from the Buffalo area, also came back to the Capitol to advocate for his disabled son. He said 90 percent of the provider groups’ budgets come from the government in the form of Medicaid reimbursement.

“Eighty percent of that goes to wages,” Reynolds said.

Santabarbara and Weisenberg are Democrats and Reynolds is a Republican, but they said in this instance, political parties don’t matter. And they said they want to make sure their requests are front and center as the decisions get made about priorities in the new state budget. 

“This is planning time now,” said Reynolds.

The lawmakers and the caregivers groups also want the state to address the high vacancy and turnover rate in the industry. Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have helped with recruitment and retention.

But a spokeswoman for the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities said her agency is “deeply committed” to attracting and keeping skilled caregivers. As for the request for the $45 million over the next six years, spokeswoman Jennifer O’Sullivan would only say that the governor provided subsidies in the current year’s budget to help agencies for the developmentally disabled comply with higher wage requirements, but did not comment on what might happen in the future.

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.