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WNY advocate launches letter-writing campaign to increase caregiver staffing for New Yorkers with disabilities

Courtesy of BJ Stasio

A local disability rights advocate is launching a campaign on Monday, October 11, to bring Governor Kathy Hochul’s attention to a workforce crisis that is leaving New Yorkers with disabilities without daily assistance.

BJ Stasio, an activist from Western New York, decided to start the campaign after sharing his own story about the lack of staff support at a New York State Senate hearing in September. He hopes to receive at least 10,000 letters written by people with disabilities, their families, workers, and community members. He intends to hand them directly to Governor Hochul himself.

“This is your opportunity to make change for yourself and for others. So please use your voice. It doesn't have to be a long story. It can be a short story, it can be however long you want. Just telling your story, families, DSPs [direct support professionals], those who are, those who know people with disabilities, tell the stories, because I want to tell the governor that she needs to work to change this for everybody. Because the system is broken. It’s not working right now. It’s not working for any of us,” Stasio said.

Stasio says that a lot of people, including himself, have seen a shortage of staff, who typically assist with personal care and accessing the community. Many individuals with disabilities receive assistance from workers such as home health aids or direct support professionals. New York Disability Advocates reports that disability services providers surveyed showed one in four positions vacant in the state, with 93 percent of agencies having a decrease in job applicants. Many attribute this workforce crisis to low wages, which are controlled by Medicaid funding.

Stasio says many people who live independently in the community have been told that if they don’t receive this staff support, they might find themselves moved into a group home, where Stasio says the staff is already overworked and underpaid.

“This is an issue for all people with disabilities and all those who love them and all those who support them. Because if we're not seen, it's not a truly inclusive community and without the staff who support us, we can’t be in the community to do what we’re all doing.”

He added that people should voice the changes they want to see in the disability services system.

“It’s our system, and we need to make it work for all of us, the families, the providers, and individuals, the system belongs to us. The system doesn't tell us what we need. We tell it what we need from it.”

Stasio chose for it to be a write-in campaign so people will have the time to think about their responses, and so they can also submit their stories anonymously. He added that wants this to reach Hochul for a few reasons.

“Well, because she's the leader of the legislative body, both of them, she's the one who will sign and veto any legislation that might come. So I figured, go right to the top dog. Don't mess with anybody in the middle, go right to the top dog. So that's what I'm doing. And she's new. So she needs to know more about this crisis. Not that she doesn't know about people with developmental disabilities, but she needs to know what's going on now. And we need her help to change it, because we need a governor, who will work with us.”

Stasio would like the letters to be emailed as soon as possible, within the next few weeks, so he can arrange the visit with Hochul.

To submit your letter, visit https://p2a.co/mwx4X0v or email NYRiseUpTogether@gmail.com.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.