BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Close to 100 family members and community activists rallied to oppose proposed cuts to the state agency that provides support for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities. Protestors say the cuts hurt their loved ones, their families, and workers providing care.
“This is an issue that is a social and racial issue that our state legislators and our governor need to stand up for,” said developmental disabilities advocate Brenda McDuffie.
Advocates claim there are more than 3,200 job openings at Western New York facilities for people with developmental disabilities. There’s a crisis, they say, with severe staffing shortages also affecting group homes that have to curtail the number of clients they serve.
Why can’t these agencies find workers? The pay. “It has been the policy of the State of New York that fast food work is more valuable than the work done by direct support professionals,” said Jeff Paterson, Developmental Disabilities Alliance of WNY.
Max and Joyce Donatelli’s son, Craig, is staying in a group home with six other young men with Down Syndrome. The families do the hiring, but now they can’t even keep enough people on staff. “We had a couple of staff that just worked until the end of their shift and left. No notice, with no notice,” they said.
The staffing shortages can also lead to financial hardship for the families. Lisa Kowal was forced to give up her government job to care for her adult son on the Autism Spectrum. “I had to retire early, I had to give up 50% of my pension for life and no, I could not afford that cut. I have to care for my son,” she said.
A rally—organized by the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York—called for passage of a State Senate bill that would repeal the cuts proposed by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. They also want to raise the pay scale for direct support professionals.
The New York State Office for People with Development Disabilities released the following statement in response:
New York State has made substantial and ongoing investments in wage increases for our direct care workforce over the past several years, including three targeted initiatives to increase compensation to staff in the not-for-profit sector: 2% increases in 2015; 3.25% increases in 2018 and another round of 2% increases in January and April of 2020. In addition, not-for-profit service providers also received a 1% COLA increase as part of the recently enacted 2021-2022 Budget.