The Legislature will pass the state’s fiscal budget soon, and many may have seen the billboard along I-787 calling for an 8.5 percent human services cost-of-living adjustment. Across the state, Association for Community Living members, who house 40,000 New Yorkers with mental illness, are counting on a COLA larger than the proposed 2.5 percent — as are the thousands of employees who work for them, along with tens of thousands of others in the behavioral health sector. For many years, this COLA wasn’t funded at all, so for those who depend on it, securing a billboardsized beacon to ensure our message is heard is a measured response to years of disappointment. While the COLA helps pay staff a living wage for challenging work, it also helps keep the doors of our communities open. At a rally held in February, our members described the current state of inflation: Groceries, health insurance, transportation, building maintenance, utilities, etc. are all more expensive and are up by percentages surpassing the proposed 2.5 percent increase. We must pay these bills before we raise wages to address extreme staff shortages. Our request for 8.5 percent is conservative at best. ACL’s members serve residents with persistent mental health issues; we want to help as many New Yorkers as possible. It’s great the governor has demonstrated support for the agencies serving this growing population by proposing new development. But if we don’t have the staff or funds to keep the lights on, those beds will close.
Sebrina Barrett Clifton Park
Executive director, Association of Community Living