© 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

New OPWDD Acting Commissioner Kerri Neifeld speaks at annual SANYS conference

WBFO File Photo

This story originally aired December 10, 2021.

Recently, New York’s Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, or OPWDD, gained new leadership. Kerri Neifeld, who was recently appointed as acting commissioner by Governor Hochul, spoke directly with the disability community Friday.

In a virtual forum as part of the Self Advocacy Association of New York State’s (SANYS) annual conference, Neifeld said her main priority is stabilizing the community’s support workforce, which is in the middle of a worker shortage. After that, she can focus on creative investments to the system.

"For so long, we have been living in an environment where we haven't had enough resources, whether it be staffing or money or money in the right places. But I think, you know, we're on the precipice of an exciting opportunity to be able to really think about how we want to thoughtfully and creatively invest in our system. What is it that we want to do? What are our goals?"

Recently, the state announced the use of emergency funding to provide worker bonuses and other funding to voluntary agencies that employ workers who provide daily support to people with disabilities who are living independently. Neifeld will be considered acting commissioner until her senate confirmation in 2022.

She also shared a bit about her background in direct social work in mental health, child welfare, and homelessness, before she started working for the government.

"I really see my job now as just an extension of my role when I was a social worker, which is just to make sure that this system, OPWDD, and the system that it supports, meets the needs of the people it serves, and that's you, you know, and so I really, I see my job as making sure that that this, this apparatus works."

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.