We are still dealing with the aftermath of the 4% total COLA for the human service workforce. To a person, everyone I know says the biggest issue we have in our sector is workforce. We have a workforce that is comprised of 70% women and 75% people of color. Yet, the response has been a 1.5% COLA increase from the Legislature on top of the Executive’s 2.5%.
How can we remain competitive in this market? As we have said time and time again, people come to our field because they are mission driven but mission driven does not put food on the table. We need to continue to raise the issue everywhere we go.
State budget skirts major pay adjustment for mental health staffers
Advocates for the human services sector are disappointed by the state’s investments in the workforce, a key component of the struggling mental health system
May 1, 2023
ALBANY — The state budget that’s expected to be finalized this week will include a raft of policies meant to address a struggling mental health sector, a stated policy goal for Democratic leaders this year as New York is grappling with workforce shortages and the post-pandemic effects on the industry.
Gaps in the state’s historically underfunded mental health system have been a priority for Gov. Kathy Hochul, and one that remained relatively unscathed throughout the ongoing budget negotiations. Hochul touted the infusion of $1 billion into the sector last week as she announced a framework for this year’s state budget.
“Today marks a reversal in our state’s approach, a monumental shift,” Hochul said, pointing to a plan for additional psychiatric beds and increased outpatient services.
But advocates for the human services sector said they are disappointed by the state’s investments in the workforce. The budget calls for a 4 percent cost of living adjustment, or COLA, for individuals who work in nonprofit programs. Those workers provide many of the same services as facilities run by the state workforce and are licensed and regulated through state agencies.
Hochul’s initial budget proposal had included a 2.5 percent adjustment. But many workers in the mental health sector and other human service industries decried that offer, swarming the Capitol in recent weeks to call for a much higher target of 8.5 percent.
The final agreement has left advocates frustrated, said Glenn Liebman, who leads the Mental Health Association of New York State. He said their original request was to keep funding for workers in lockstep with inflation that has challenged workforce retention.
“We’re concerned about their support,” Liebman said of the Legislature, which had originally included a much higher COLA in its one-house budgets than what ultimately was agreed on. “This will lead to people leaving our system and taking other jobs. Why would you stay in a job dealing with people with complex needs when you could go to a service industry job and make just as much money with a lot less pressure, right?”
Advocates have also pointed to potential disparity issues; much of the mental health workforce is staffed by women of color. The COLA will also affect direct care workers through other state agencies that provide services to the state’s most vulnerable residents, like those with disabilities or struggles with substance abuse, including the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Liebman noted some positive developments, including a provision mandating that insurance companies reimburse school-based mental health clinics that provide outpatient care for school-aged children.
Some Democratic lawmakers are also cheering the inclusion of a pilot program of “Daniel’s Law,” legislation that would empower mental health responders rather than police officers to show up to distress calls when people are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
The budget allocates $10 million to establish a 10-member task force studying the roll out of the law. Members will solicit feedback statewide over the next two and a half years before submitting a report to the governor’s office with final recommendations on whether to implement the system statewide.
Named after a Rochester man who died during an encounter with police while he was experiencing a mental health crisis in 2020, the law aims to shift away from a reliance on police during emergency calls. In recent weeks, the measure had been bolstered by publicized incidents involving police force during non-emergency calls.
Bill sponsor state Sen. Samra Brouk, D-Rochester, has emphasized the connection between Hochul’s focus on public safety and mental health and the legislation, calling it a logical approach to lessen the likelihood of violent interactions between people with mental illnesses and police responders.
The budget also calls for another pilot program studying maternal mental health, including postpartum depression and anxiety. Lawmakers have previously called attention to the high maternal mortality rate in the state; the state Department of Health has listed mental health as the third-leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths.