Wages for people who provide essential services to New York's most vulnerable populations is expected to be the key topic aired by advocates at a state Senate hearing later on Tuesday.

The hearing comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has strained an already stressed provider system for people with disabilities in the state, which has struggled with a lack of competitive pay.

Advocates are expected to call for a boost in funding to service providers in order to provide a more robust pay plan for those who care for people with disabilities in order to make up for staff shortages and the resulting program cutbacks.

The New York Disability Advocates in a survey released earlier this year in a survey of provider agencies found a higher vacancy rate than before the pandemic. Nearly half of the agencies surveyed reported having to close programs or reduce operations because of staff shortages. And nearly all agencies surveyed, 93%, have seen the number of job applicants decline.

Advocates point to the law pay: The statewide average wage for residential service providers is $15.42, while day program staff on average are paid $15.88. New York's current minimum wage in a fast food restaurant, advocates note, is $15.