Albany Lawmakers Must Do More to Safeguard the Well-Being of New Yorkers with I/DD

By Mike Alvaro | March 29, 2024

One of the key ways to gauge the integrity of any democratic government is the ability to represent and protect its most vulnerable constituents. Policies and actions that meet these criteria serve as a litmus test of the values and priorities we all strive for. This year, our elected officials in both the Senate and Assembly have signaled that they strive to create a world where the thousands of New Yorkers with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities (I/DD) and the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who support them can thrive – but they have once again fallen short.

For over a decade, chronic underfunding has left New York’s non-profit provider agencies tasked with supporting more than 80% of New Yorkers with I/DD in a state of crisis that is continually compounded by a catastrophic workforce shortage and rising inflation.

To ensure the future viability of the I/DD service sector, and in turn the well-being of New Yorkers living with I/DD, the New York State Legislature must include both components of our “Invest in ME!” campaign in the final enacted State budget: a full 3.2% Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) to counter the annual inflation rate, and a Direct Support Wage Enhancement (DSWE) to rebuild New York’s DSP workforce.

While both the Senate and Assembly acknowledged that greater investment is needed to rescue the I/DD service sector from the brink of collapse by including a 3.2% COLA in their One House budget resolutions, the investment is marred with restrictions that will do more harm than good.

Caring for people with disabilities is a complex system. That system includes clerical work, transportation costs, maintenance, quality assurance, and other operating costs – including providing competitive pay to the essential workers to counter the workforce crisis. However, the other factor driving the ongoing service sector crisis is inflation which has uniquely impacted individual agencies across the state. By restricting the allocation of COLA funds, provider agencies cannot rely on this investment to effectively tackle their distinct fiscal challenges.

This is why the “Invest in ME!” campaign stresses the importance of both a COLA for providers to maintain vital services in the wake of inflation and a Direct Support Wage Enhancement (DSWE) to bolster the DSP workforce by ensuring fair pay. With the DSWE, provider agencies would receive funding to enhance the hourly pay rate for staff, providing essential direct care services to individuals with I/DD. This is necessary to both improve recruitment and retention for providers and also ensure that nearly half of this essential workforce will no longer be condemned to livelihoods plagued by food and housing insecurity.

These two investments work in tandem. The COLA ensures providers have the funds to rebuild programs and services after years of neglect, while the DSWE ensures that there is a strong workforce in place to support them. One without the other will do no more than stick a band-aid on a gaping wound.

The Senate recognized the importance of including a DSWE in its budget resolution to supplement and reinforce a COLA, albeit a restricted one. Concerningly, the Assembly did not.

We urge Governor Hochul and the members of the Assembly and Senate to include the DSWE and 3.2% COLA without restrictions in the final enacted State budget. To do anything less is to fail not only thousands of New Yorkers with I/DD, their family, and care workers but also the very principles of equity and justice we claim to cherish.

Mike Alvaro is the President of the New York Disability Advocates and President and CEO of Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State