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Mental Health Update

January 24, 2023
Mental Health Update

New York Daily News Op Ed from Mike Alvaro of Cerebral Palsy Associations regarding the needs of Direct Support Professionals (DSP’s) Inbox

As the mental health and human service sector raises our voice in today’s call in, there have also been a series of articles about the importance of an 8.5% COLA.  In the last few days, we have shared op-eds about the workforce COLA from a children’s welfare and mental health perspective.  Today our friend and colleague, Mike Alvaro, President of the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York, wrote an op-ed in the Daily News about the importance of workforce from the perspective of those that work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Glenn Liebman

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Hochul must help New Yorkers with disabilities

The mission of the disabilities service sector is to empower individuals with disabilities and their families and ensure they have the support and resources they need. After working in this sector for more 30 years and now as the new president of New York Disability Advocates, a statewide coalition of more than 300 nonprofit intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) provider agencies, I have seen firsthand how our services transform the lives of our community members for the better.

I also have too clearly seen the pain and constant burden of worry our community experiences when we fall short. New York’s I/DD community has been fighting against a crisis for more than a decade — and we’ve reached a tipping point. With rising costs of inflation, coupled with the widespread staffing shortages and chronic underfunding that have plagued us for more than a decade, the future viability of the I/DD service sector hangs in balance.

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide important practical and administrative support such as first aid and CPR, administering medication, meal preparation, or transport facilitation, as well as attending to the unique social, emotional, and psychological needs of those they care for.

Quite simply, they help people with disabilities live fulfilling lives.

But without the necessary state funding to offer higher wages in a competitive labor market, Direct Support Professionals are leaving their positions in droves. From a recently conducted NYDA survey there are currently 19,788 direct care positions in New York that remain vacant in nonprofit agencies. This is largely due to an hourly rate that’s just above minimum wage. Given the amount of training and high skill requirements needed to become a Direct Support Professional, many in the labor market, including a large number of current DSPs, are turning to jobs in the fast food and retail sectors, which offer more pay with a lower barrier of access. As a result, the statewide average vacancy rate across the state is nearly 20%, according to the same NYDA survey.

Because of this, high turnover rates are costing the state’s nonprofit provider agencies an additional $100.5 million annually. This is an unnecessary annual cost that no organization cannot afford. In order to account for this high turnover cost, provider agencies are forced to cut, or all together eliminate, funding for other essential programs and services that our community depends on. Given that each and every service that provider agencies offer are engineered to support and create fulfilling lives for individuals with I/DD, the loss of even one of these services greatly impacts those who rely on it.

To truly overcome the challenges facing our sector, we need long-term solutions to recruit and retain staff and meet rising costs.

The health and well-being of New Yorkers with I/DD will remain in constant jeopardy without permanent investment in DSP salaries to recruit and retain staff. While the 5.4% Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) in the state FY 2023 budget was the first step in the right direction, more investments are crucial to dig the I/DD sector out of its decades-long underfunding crisis.

That’s why it’s crucial that Gov. Hochul make the I/DD community a priority in her upcoming Executive Budget. The future viability of the I/DD service sector requires sustained long-term investment, not a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

New Yorkers with disabilities deserve a well-paid workforce and services they can rely on. That’s why NYDA is advocating for a Direct Support Wage Enhancement (DSWE) that would provide nonprofit provider agencies with permanent funding per employee to enhance hourly wages for direct support staff. This will allow the nonprofit service sector to offer competitive wages to address the significant challenges in recruitment and retention that have long plagued the field.

In addition to a wage enhancement for DSPs, another COLA increase is critical to ensuring the future of our sector. In the wake of rising inflation, the operational costs for provider agencies have greatly risen as well. A COLA increase of at least 8.5% would help provider agencies cover the increased costs of sustaining vital programs and services as they look to overcome their workforce depletion.

This crisis cannot continue to persist any longer. Our community deserves better. Our caregivers deserve better. More than 130,000 New Yorkers with I/DD and their families are relying on all of us. Last year, Albany took the first step in righting the wrongs of a decade, and now is the time to continue that momentum. I, alongside New York’s care agencies and I/DD community, remain hopeful that we can work with Hochul to build a sustainable I/DD care sector that can meet the needs of today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Mike Alvaro is the president of the New York Disability Advocates and president and CEO of Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State.