ALBANY | More than 500 Arc of New York chapters' staff and supported individuals rallied in Albany recently to advocate for a permanent investment in Direct Support Professional (DSP) salaries.
The mid-February rally was a result of Arc of New York and its chapters' belief that Gov. Kathy Hocul’s 2024 Executive Budget ignores the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the workforce that supports them.
“We need more," Jared West, director of public relations for Advocacy and Resource Center, said.
"We need her to do more. And she has said that she's on our side and on the side of this underserved population, but it didn't come through in the budget. We went to Albany to make our voice heard, with a lot of other people, and to get the rate of pay increased.”
The Arc of New York and their partners, like Mountain Lake Services and Advocacy and Resource Center, are calling for the establishment of a Direct Support Wage Enhancement(DSWE) and an 8.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to be included in the budget. They are also asking for a $4,000 base increase to help "stabilize the system."
Jack Mudge, executive director at Mountain Lake Services, said “The same [type of] workers who do the same thing, except for they're in the state system got a $4,000 increase in their base and a 13.5 percent increase in their salary COLA, whereas the volunteer agencies are slated for a 2.5 percent increase, which is significantly lower than the cost of living.”
This issue is not unique to the North Country. West said he met people from all over the state in Albany who are facing the same challenges year after year.
The issue is not new, either. These agencies have to advocate for their position in the budget consistently throughout the year, and COVID-19 exacerbated it.
“Our workforce is working just above minimum wage and is a trained workforce that was considered essential a year ago," Mudge said, "and people were desperate to give them more money and promised that that would continue.”
The New York Office for People with Developmental Disabilities issued $1,000 bonuses to full-time DSPs who worked at least a 90-day period between March 2020 and September 2021.
“The governor promised that the bonuses that they received were just in good faith and they would work on improving the budget,” Mudge said. “Well, that good faith didn't come true, because 2.5 is not enough for an individual to continue to work in this workforce.”
Mudge said most of the individuals present at the rally were people who DSPs serve.
“They understand that if they don't have staff, they can't do the things that they need to do or want to do," Mudge said, “whether that's going to doctor's appointments, going out into town, meeting up with their friends, or, in some cases, going to the grocery store.”
Mudge said the lack of funding doesn't just affect the individuals who receive support from DSPs, it affects the entire community in which those individuals live.
“We’re not like a restaurant; when we don’t have a worker we can’t close or change our times," Mudge said. "We're 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and our individuals are trained and dedicated. We have a great workforce, and we need to support that workforce.”
West said the Arc and its partner agencies across the state are encouraging people in their communities to advocate for them through “one-click campaigns.”
“If we have enough people that are saying the same thing we have found that our elected officials will respond to that,” West said.