WNY State Legislators Join DDAWNY to Advocate for Direct Support Professionals

Buffalo – Assemblymember Karen McMahon (D-Amherst) teamed up with several Western New York state legislators and the Developmental Disability Alliance of WNY (DDAWNY) on Thursday to call for funding in Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs).

DSPs work with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD), providing a wide range of highly specialized services, as well as everyday needs. DSPs are trained in first aid, CPR, and medication administration. Their work also includes meal preparation, transportation, and understanding of and care for the emotional and psychological needs of those they serve.

For the past several years, the workforce industry that supports those with I/DD has been in crisis. Budget cuts and inaction have left DSPs underpaid, undersupported, and understaffed. For example, compensation for this highly technical and important work has hovered around $16.45/hour in New York City, and $16.02/hour in WNY and the rest of NYS. These wages, barely above the minimum wage, have been a key contributor to the industry’s difficulty in hiring and retaining workers.

In December, McMahon and her legislative colleagues sent a letter to Hochul calling for this crisis to be addressed by including funding for DSPs in her 2024 Executive Budget. They also urged the Governor to include a 3.2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). I/DD providers are solely funded by Medicaid and therefore are unable to increase reimbursement rates to offset operating costs. A COLA would ensure that not-for-profit agencies can continue to operate.

McMahon, leaders from DDAWNY, and members of the WNY delegation gathered at People Inc.’s Center for Excellence in Human Services and Training in Buffalo to acknowledge and highlight the negative impact this crisis is having on the I/DD community.

Assemblymember Karen McMahon (D-Amherst) said: “As a member of the Assembly Committee on People with Disabilities, I have heard and seen the terrible impacts of wage stagnation and a lack of urgency in the support of DSPs. DSPs are vital figures in the lives of those with I/DD, their families, and the agencies that support them. The need for the services they provide does not wane, so our support should not either. In our community, we are fortunate to have groups like DDAWNY to advocate for DSPs and those with I/DD, as well as a committed group of leaders in the WNY legislative delegation focused on highlighting this need and seeing this crisis rectified. I thank DDAWNY and my colleagues for joining me today in this important effort.”

Mindy Cervoni, President of The Developmental Disability Alliance of WNY (DDAWNY) and CEO at Community Services for Every1 said on behalf of the 40 agencies in DDAWNY: “We are greatly concerned that there was no mention in the State of the State of our workforce crisis nor plans to address the significant needs of people with developmental disabilities. While we are grateful to the Governor for the investment in the field of developmental disabilities the last two years, after a decade of financial neglect, we find ourselves still in crisis. It’s imperative that the State place this vulnerable population at the forefront. There are 33,000 people in WNY who need support. We cannot let them down, not now, not ever. We trust the State will prioritize investing in our workforce in the soon to be released Budget and provide adequate reimbursement to the agencies and who do this work. Failure to invest will only result in a catastrophe.”

Anne McCaffrey, President and CEO of People Inc. said: “We need Governor Hochul to put a 3.2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) and a $4,000 direct support wage enhancement in her Executive Budget. We need her to continue her commitment to our states most vulnerable and the direct support professionals that care for them 24/7. We thank our WNY state delegation for standing with us today and for calling on Governor Hochul to put these funds in her budget. The care we provide is essential. It’s incumbent on our leaders to address this crisis.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said: “We’re living in inflationary times and life continues to become more expensive. We must continue to take care of those that lovingly and selflessly take care of our most vulnerable residents, while their income levels make them vulnerable as well. I applaud DDAWNY for continuing to advocate on their behalf.”

Senator Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) said: “Direct support professionals are lifelines for some of New York’s most vulnerable citizens. New Yorkers with intellectual and developmental disabilities rely on these highly trained and qualified workers to provide essential care every day. As non-profit organizations struggle to hire and retain workers, an increase in wages for DSPs would help reverse our state’s caregiver shortage and ensure more New Yorkers have reliable access to the support they need.”

Assemblymember William Conrad (D-Tonawanda) said: “The disappointing reality is this: Our DSPs have been waiting too long for New York State to reflect the value of their work with the appropriate investment. And our families and individuals with I/DD are having to endure the true costs of that neglect, and forgoing timely support in their day-to-day lives, or going without it altogether. I join my colleagues in standing with the dedicated advocates of DDAWNY and the indispensable professionals of agencies like People Inc. in calling on the Governor to include in her budget the well-overdue and desperately needed wage enhancement and COLA for DSPs. It is our fiscal responsibility to ensure the viability of this essential field, as it is our moral duty to uphold the independence, dignity, and wellness of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) said: “Direct support professionals are vital to the well-being of individuals with disabilities, but for too long, their pay has not reflected their critical role in the special needs community. With starting wages for DSPs only just above minimum wage, these essential workers are struggling to make ends meet, and non-profits are facing high vacancies and turnovers that negatively impact care for people with disabilities. While we made progress in last year’s budget, now is the time to go further and raise DSPs’ wages to the competitive levels they were decades ago.”

Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera (D-Buffalo) said: “Our direct support professionals are an integral, indispensable component of our healthcare system. Yet despite their tireless work within the intellectual and developmental disability community, chronic underfunding poses a grave threat to the sector’s ability to meet the needs of those who need it most, as the low wages are forcing these essential workers to look for other jobs in other fields. I fully support the creation of a new Direct Support Wage Enhancement (DSWE) to be included in this year’s Executive Budget so that direct support professionals are given the reinforcement they both need and deserve.”