Local lawmakers, Arc representatives meet to discuss increased funding for direct support wages

Local lawmakers, Arc representatives meet to discuss increased funding for direct support wages

 

ELMIRA | Local lawmakers met Wednesday with officials with from the Arcs of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, and Yates counties to discuss concerns about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2017-18 Executive Budget and the need for a living wage for direct support professionals who work directly with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Assemblymen Chris Friend, R-Big Flats, Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, and State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, acknowledged the challenges that agencies will face when the state’s minimum wage increases at the end of this year.

Direct support workers are highly skilled, highly trained professionals who support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Increasingly, people who provide direct support are leaving this line of work as organizations that provide services are no longer able to offer competitive compensation.

Arc chapters must comply with the minimum wage increase that will go into effect at the end of the year. Because they receive the majority of their funding from the state, however, these organizations are facing massive budget shortfalls unless state funding is increased in the 2017-18 budget. Without state funding, this mandated wage increase could impact the ability of Arc chapters to provide programs and services in the future.

“This is not something that’s surprised us,” O’Mara said. “It’s going to have a big impact on agencies like the Arc. We’re here to try to work together on a strategy to help make up for what is going to be a major impact. Service provider agencies have very tight budgets as it is. This is going to exacerbate the staffing issues that already exist.”

O’Mara, Friend, and Palmesano said they supported the Arc chapters’ efforts to increase funding, starting with the 2017-18 budget.

“The impact of the unfunded minimum wage increase on agencies that serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers, those with developmental disabilities, is one of the most important issues we’re facing,” Palmesano said. “If we are not making sure the quality of life and quality of care for developmentally disabled people is addressed, then we’re failing the tax payers and failing New York. We have to make every effort to make sure we’re addressing this need.”

Arc officials said they will continue to create awareness for this issue as the budget process moves forward. A letter-writing campaign to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a #bfair2directcare social media campaign, and a rally planned for early January are among the efforts to draw attention to the need for increased funding for direct support professional pay.

“This needs to be a priority,” Palmesano said. “There’s no greater service than providing care to improve the quality of life for our most vulnerable citizens, people with developmental disabilities.  For me this needs to be the top priority before we address anything else.”

The Arcs of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties are members of NYSARC, Inc., New York State’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting people with developmental and other disabilities and their families. The 47 operating chapters comprising NYSARC support and serve people with developmental disabilities, including those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and neurological impairments, in every county in the state.

With more than 110,000 members, the organization supports approximately 60,000 individuals and employs close to 30,000 people.

Assemblyman Chris Friend, left, Senator Tom O’Mara, Arc of Schuyler Executive Director Jeannette Frank, Arc of Chemung Executive Director Michael Doherty, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Arc of Yates Chief of Staff Mary Mansfield, and Arc of Steuben Executive Director Bernie Burns met to discuss the need for increased funding from the state to cover wage increases for direct support professionals