Urges Governor & Legislature to “Finish the Job” and Fund Living Wage for Direct Support Professionals
A bipartisan collection of current and new state legislators joined parents, self-advocates and non-profits that support people with developmental disabilities on Long Island this week to call for funding that allows direct care workers to finally receive a living wage.
Noting that 44 new state Legislators are taking office in January, including eight from Long Island, the #bFair2DirectCare Coalition said Governor Cuomo and all lawmakers must finish the job” and put living wage funding for direct support professionals in the next state budget.
Roy Probeyahn, President, L.I. Advocacy Network for the Developmentally Disabled, and single father of three adult sons with developmental disabilities, said: “DSPs are front-line heroes who support persons with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, yet they often make less money than their friends who work in fast-food restaurants and retail.”
“This must change once and for all. It’s up to our state legislators and Governor Cuomo to change it. The lack of a living wage for our DSPs has become fundamentally an issue of safety, of signiﬁcant risks to health and the potential for serious injury or death,” Probeyahn said.
“All across the state, DSPs are working overtime away from their families to support others who need them. They deserve to be paid a living wage,” said Tom McAlvanah, Executive Director of the Interagency Council of Developmental Disability Agencies, Inc.
Direct support professionals are responsible for everything from helping people with daily tasks to administering medication. They are employed by non-profit agencies who receive almost all their funding from government and provide services on behalf of the state government, which began relying on non-profits after the Willowbrook scandal of the 1970s.
Nearly three-fourths of the state’s 90,000 DSPs are women and more than half are black or Hispanic.
Yesterday’s rally included state legislators from Long Island, New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, their families and the workers who support them. The rally was held at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood Campus.
In 2017, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature included the first two years of a six-year plan to provide a living wage for direct care workers. However, funding has not been committed for the rest of the plan, leaving these non-profits in a perpetual staffing crisis and DSPs struggling to make ends meet.
When fully implemented, the living wage for a DSP would be roughly $16.40/hour on Long Island and in Westchester, and roughly $17.80/hour in New York City.
Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Suffolk) said: “Direct Support Professionals are on the frontlines working tirelessly to provide care and support for our developmentally disabled New Yorkers. It’s essential that they be adequately compensated for the vital services they provide, and I look forward to fighting for this needed funding in the upcoming New York State Budget.”
Senator Phil Boyle (D-Suffolk) said: “I hope this is the last rally we’re going to need. It is absolute insanity what we have to do, to have workers choosing between helping our most vulnerable citizens and flipping burgers. That’s not right. It needs to end. Direct Support Professionals care for the most vulnerable individuals and fair wages will ensure the most qualified workers can continue in their critical jobs. I will continue to fight for an increase to ensure direct support professionals get their hard-earned share of funding.”
Assemblymember Missy Miller (R-Nassau), whose 19-year-old son has a developmental disability, said: “When you become a parent you never for one moment dream that one day you will be changing your 19-year-old’s diaper on the floor of a public restroom, or trying to figure out who will be able to dress him and feed him because he can’t for himself? Before I had my kids, I never thought about those things or the people who choose to do this for a living. I cannot begin to express my respect and admiration for these amazing people. For way too long DSPs have been underpaid and disrespected by the system. I will be fighting to make sure the last phases of the living wage plan are funded in the state and that cost of living adjustments are restarted.”
Senator John Brooks (D-Nassau) said: “It’s frightening when you look at the number of vacancies and the turnover that we have in terms of direct care. We have an absolute obligation to ensure not only that you have a fair wage, but that we build a career path for you. We have to make sure that the ranks of direct care workers are filled, that we provide them with career paths so they can advance in what they’re doing, and that we recognize and appreciate the incredible service you provide to these individuals and the difference you make in their lives.”
Assemblymember-elect Taylor Raynor (D-Nassau) said: “I’m excited to be part of a district where I have so many direct care workers and you definitely have a friend and a resource in me.”
Assemblymember Andrew Raia (R-Nassau) said: This is one area that hits straight to the heart. DSP workers take care of our must fragile. Every year in Albany we pass pay equity bills and we talk about comparable worth. But seldom when we’re comparing the skills of a janitor to a teacher, we never talk about the DSP worker. Because if we were talking about comparable worth, the job that you do, we couldn’t pay you enough.”
Assemblymembers Ed Ra (R-Nassau) said: “This isn’t a republican issue or a democrat issue. This is an issue of doing what’s right. There are so many things that are being talked about for the new legislative session. At the end of the day if we have our priorities straight, this needs to be at the top of the list.”
Assemblymember Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Suffolk) said: “We have to make sure this community has what it needs and what it requires. And that is a raise in the wage so that our constituents can be served very well. (Since Willowbrook) we’ve made great strides in how we care for people with various disabilities, but we’ve reached a point now where we’ve raised the minimum wage … so what we have to do in Albany is raise the wage for our direct care workers so they can have a living wage, career opportunities, and the people they serve get the best service possible.”
Robert Budd, MPS, CEO of Family Residences and Essential Enterprises in Old Bethpage, said: “It’s sad to say that state funding for DSP wages has not kept up with the need, leaving our non-profits in a staffing crisis that affects services that we provide on the state’s behalf. Our lawmakers in Albany must finish the job and fund a living wage for our workers.”