In Annual Events, Legislative Agenda, Legislative Breakfast

Direct Support Professional Wages: We support an increase in the minimum wage for all workers, and the $14.9 million in this year’s Executive Budget to raise the wages of workers in our field to the mandated new minimum. But the budget does not allocate any funding toward a living wage for direct support professionals (DSPs), the objective of the #bFair2DirectCare campaign, which we wholeheartedly endorse.

Our front line staff deserve more than the minimum wage. Their work includes bathing and feeding, handling medical and behavioral emergencies, teaching new skills. They are highly trained professionals, yet they do not earn any more than fast food workers. Most already work second or third jobs just to survive.

Provider agencies are funded by government and have no other sources of income.

New York State must provide $45 million per year for six years to bring our DSPs to a living wage. Surely, our legislators can find that in a state budget of over $150 billion.

After several years of flat or paltry rate adjustments, agencies cannot possibly provide a pay increase. They already spend 80% of their budgets on DSP wages. It is government that has the obligation to provide a livable wage.

Providers are struggling to recruit and retain DSPs, who can readily make more money in much easier jobs in the private sector. Providers report an increasing vacancy rate (unfilled jobs) that currently exceeds10%, plus annual turnover rates in excess of 20%. Such enormous turnover magnifies recruitment and training costs, prompts shortsighted reliance on overtime, and most importantly, results in the loss of trusted relationships for the people who need these services. This has heartbreaking consequences for people who can be distressed by changes to the daily routine and who love their staff like family. To someone who can’t speak, having staff who know his or her unique indicators of pain can be the difference between an ordinary day and needless suffering.

Residential Development: Statewide, development of certified residential capacity has revived in an effort to catch up to unmet demand from the outright moratorium enacted during the mortgage crisis. But OPWDD has far to go.

NYS must set aside an additional $25 million for development of new residences for individuals who need 24/7 services

There are still over 11,000 people on OPWDD’s residential request list. In our very expensive urban real estate market, development was and remains entirely inadequate. The inclusion of OPWDD participants in supportive housing opportunities under NYS’s affordable and supportive housing funds within the Department of Housing and Community Renewal may improve the prospects for opportunities in Manhattan where public transit options and accessible infrastructure provide opportunities for community integration. But supportive housing is suited to people who are relatively independent and do not need intensive staffing. Agency-supported housing that offers more staffing will continue to be necessary to meet people’s needs. OPWDD has put forth a plan to create 4900 new placements, including 1,200 newly developed opportunities, over three years, but no dollars seem to be attached to this plan.

The Executive Budget allocates $120 million, all shares, to OPWDD for new services and unspecified “programmatic reforms.” This funding is targeted to people living at home or in residential schools and includes residential services, as well as all other categories of needed services. Indisputably, the $120 million is not adequate to meet the actual needs of participants who require more than the least costly services. The actual needs of individuals with I/DD must be met by a wide range of choices in where people live, work, and participate in their communities.


Special Education Schools and Preschools

Public schools assign many students with disabilities, ages 3-5, to the 4410 non-public special education preschools because of limited public school special education capacity. Similarly, public schools contract with 853 non-public schools to serve students with disabilities, ages 5-21, whom the public schools are unable to serve. Both 4410 and 853 schools are an extension of the public sector.

New York must provide a minimum of 4% tuition increases yearly for both 4410 and 853 schools.

New York must include an additional $18 million for teacher recruitment and retention in 4410 and 853 schools

The cost to counties for preschool special education must be capped at the State FY 2013-14 rate, with the State picking up future increases.

The 4410s and 853s serve New York’s most vulnerable children, yet those schools do not receive sufficient funding to meet their mandate. While aid to public schools continues to climb yearly, the 4410s have received only two 2% increases over the past six years. Moreover, the counties bear 40.5% of the cost of the 4410s, with the remainder paid by the state; the counties’ tax cap limits their ability to provide increases for 4410s. The 853s have received increases over the last four years, but only after four years of zero growth.

Thus the 4410 and 853 schools are unable to offer competitive salaries to teachers and teacher assistants, resulting in excessive turnover and sustained vacancies. Teachers in 853 schools, for example, earned $20,000 less than their peers in the public schools in 2013. The 853 and 4410 schools are recruitment fairgrounds for the public schools.

Schools are teetering on the edge of fiscal insolvency, creating access issues for children with disabilities in certain areas of the state. This trend must be reversed. Tuition rates must be increased.

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