MHANYS has received many questions about the 5.4% COLA for the Human Service Workforce. We have cobbled together several answers. Most important piece of advice is from Yogi Berra when he said, ‘it isn’t over till it’s over’. Hopefully, we will have definitive answers after the Budget passage.1) **Is the 5.4% COLA a done deal?
Not at this point. The Governor still has to negotiate the final budget with the Legislature. We are very hopeful and, there is no reason to think otherwise, that the Legislature will agree with the Governor’s proposed COLA.
2) When will we know if the COLA will happen?
We will get a definitive answer by the time that the State budget passes which is technically April 1st. Over the last decade, the budget has passed pretty consistently around the first week in April. With this year being an election year for the Legislature and the Governor, there is even a greater likelihood that the budget will pass in early April.
3) Who will be impacted by the COLA?
Programs and services licensed, funded and certified by the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH), Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS), Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), Office of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA) and the State Office for the Aging (SOFA). The 5.4% COLA will project the effects of inflation upon rates of payments, contracts, or any other form of reimbursement for the eligible programs and services.
4) How soon after if passes, will the COLA be implemented?
It is hard to say and is dependent on how quickly it is rolled out from each agency. Obviously MHANYS number one priority is implementation from the NYS Office of Mental Health but we will certainly be paying attention to roll out from OASAS, OPWDD, OCFS, OTDA and SOFA since they all impact mental health either directly or indirectly.
5) How will the COLA be spread across the sectors?
The current language from the Governor’s Executive Budget indicates that the agency’s leadership would have discretion as to how it will be implemented. For example, a portion of it can go to a salary increase while another part of it could go for the agency to pay for an increase in health insurance costs. There will not be full clarity until the budget is passed in April.
6) Are there groups in the not for profit sector not included in the COLA?
The major group from MHANYS perspective that is not included are the Health Home Care Managers. Because they are currently in the Department of Health budget, they do not qualify for the funding increase. There is a campaign underway that MHANYS is part of to make sure that they are included with the 5.4% funding increase.
7) If I work in a not for profit, what would I expect to get from the 5.4% COLA increase?
If the budget passes as is than there is the aforementioned discretion from each agency as to how the funding will be implemented. Some agencies may choose to provide a part of the funding to the workforce, others might provide some funding but utilize another part of the funding for rising costs of health insurance, electricity, etc. Workers in the mental hygiene arena including OMH, OASAS and OPWDD could also qualify for a one time only $3000 retention bonus. The parameters for the retention bonus are still being negotiated but two things are clear—you have to be working in an agency for at least one year and you have to make under $100,000 a year.
8) Is the COLA permanent?
Yes, the COLA is permanent. It is not a one year fix.
9) What are future advocacy efforts with the COLA?
MHANYS and our colleagues are very dedicated to insuring that there will be future yearly COLAs. Up until the past two years, despite the COLA being statutory, it has not been included in the final State budget. We will work with the Legislature and Executive during the budget to advocate for permanent language that will include a COLA for the human services sector. This should not be a year to year negotiation. This should be permanently in the budget for our workforce
10) What other measures are being taken for the workforce?
As I mentioned earlier, there will be a three thousand dollar retention bonus for the OMH, OPWDD and OASAS workforce with caveats around working for an agency for at least a year and making under $100,000 a year In addition, there is a bill in the Legislature now that will provide a tax credit to licensed agencies in the OMH, OPWDD and OASAS workforce.