Organizations that provide services for people with developmental disabilities were already facing a difficult time with funding and, crucially, retain staff. But they are worried a looming budget proposal could spell even more problems for those who care for the state's most vulnerable residents.
They are mobilizing this budget season to stave off spending reductions and seek a cost-of-living adjustment for their direct care workers.
This week, the state moved to provide a restoration of the 20% of funding withheld last year to service providers during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But permanent cuts of 5% are still on the horizon for providers and much of their budgets will be shaped by what New York receives in federal aid over the next several weeks.
Here's an interview with Erik Geizer, the CEO of The ARC New York and part of the larger New York Disabilities Advocates coalition.
Spectrum News: What is the biggest issue facing people who provide programs and services to those with developmental disabilities in New York?
Erik Geizer: We are looking at the past 10 years where we have not had a cost of living adjustment for our field. Imagine working at a job 10 years ago and still being paid the same thing today. That's essentially what we're trying to face. We estimate that's cost our field about $5 billion in funding. Add to that the COVID crisis which has cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in funded costs that we did not anticipate. On top of everything else, of course, you add the budget cuts and you have a real recipe for disaster.
SN: Has that affected your ability to retain workers who, I imagine, are working in a pretty challenging field.
Erik Geizer: Unfortunately we are competing with non-human service sectors fields. The wages we are able to pay our direct workforce is minimum wage, sometimes just marginally over minimum wage. So we're competing with fast food restaurants, Walmarts, Targets. And some of that work can be much less difficult than the very challenging work our direct care workforce has on their hands.
SN: How much do your budgets hinge on federal aid?
Erik Geizer: We are actually looking for more federal support. There have been some who have suggested that we could be seeing up to $15 billion in federal support. If we were able to have that sort of victory, that we hope would result in many of these cuts being completely eliminated and allowing us to invest in our programs, our services and of course our workforce and their salaries.