To Fulfill Her Promise to All New Yorkers, Governor Hochul Cannot Ignore the I/DD Community

By Mike Alvaro | January 29, 2023

When delivering her State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Hochul spoke of the New York Dream. Governor Hochul tasked herself and her administration to lift up the lives of all New Yorkers, especially our most vulnerable.

A bold mission, and one that cannot be realized until Governor Hochul addresses the dire crisis of one of New York’s most vulnerable populations, the intellectual and developmental (I/DD) community.

We are a community composed of individuals with I/DD, their families, and the care service workers who help support them – and we have been in a state of crisis for over a decade.

With over 90% of funding for New York’s support services sector subsidized, a historic pattern of underfunding, has left our sector and community contending with a critically depleted workforce and unsustainable operational costs. To solve these long-standing issues, we need investments now through a workforce wage enhancement and a cost-of-live-adjustment (COLA) in the New York’s State Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.

The backbone of the care services workforce are Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), many of whom are women and people of color. In their role, DSPs provide important practical and administrative support such as first aid and CPR, administering medication, meal preparation, and transport facilitation, as well as attending to the unique social, emotional, and psychological needs of those they care for.

However, without the necessary state funding to offer higher wages in a competitive labor market, DSPs are leaving their positions in droves. Currently, 19,788 direct care positions in New York remain vacant in the nonprofit agencies, largely due to an hourly rate that’s just above minimum wage.

Because of this, high turnover rates are costing our state’s nonprofit provider agencies an additional $100.5 million annually – a cost we cannot afford to absorb without eliminating funding for other essential programs and services that our community depends on.

While the 5.4% COLA in last year’s State Budget was a much needed first step, to truly overcome the challenges facing our sector, we need long-term solutions to recruit and retain staff and meet rising costs due to inflation.

That’s why the I/DD community is advocating for a Direct Support Wage Enhancement (DSWE) that would provide nonprofit provider agencies with permanent funding per employee to enhance hourly wages for direct support staff. This will allow the nonprofit service sector to offer competitive wages to address the significant challenges in recruitment and retention that have long plagued the field.

In addition to a wage enhancement for DSPs, another COLA increase is critical to ensuring the future of our sector. In the wake of rising inflation, a COLA increase of at least 8.5% is necessary for provider agencies to cover the increased operational costs of vital programs and services and remain viable.

The effectiveness of any government is in its ability to listen and help their citizens who are at their most vulnerable.

I have worked within the I/DD care services sector for over 30 years, and I know how our efforts lift up the lives of the individuals with I/DD that we work so closely with and care so much about.

Without permanent investments to solve our workforce crisis, and steady New York’s destabilized support services infrastructure, the health and well-being of the thousands of New Yorkers with I/DD will remain in jeopardy. That is why to truly achieve her promise of uplifting all New Yorkers, Governor Hochul cannot ignore the I/DD community in her upcoming Executive Budget.

After a decade of neglect, Governor Hochul has given us new hope that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. We hope to see Governor Hochul achieve the New York Dream for all of us, but she cannot do it without building a sustainable future for the I/DD community.

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