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Photo courtesy of #bFair2DirectCare
Photo courtesy of #bFair2DirectCare
A rally was held to urge an increase in wages for direct support professionals working with developmentally disabled individuals.

Be fair to direct care!

That was the chant heard at St. Francis College, 182 Remsen Street, on Monday, December 4 as Brooklynites with developmental disabilities, their parents and caregivers, a bipartisan delegation of state legislators, faith leaders, civic and community leaders joined #bFair2DirectCare for a rally aimed at increasing currently low wages for direct support professionals (DSPs).

The initiative of BFair2DirectCare is to remind state leaders that direct care not-for-profit agency workers are “agents of the state who need a fair rate of pay,” given the significance of the job they’re performing, according to Executive Director of Interagency Council for Developmental Disabilities Agencies (ICDDA) Tom McAlvanah. “On any given day, 24/7, DSPs are there to provide guidance and support needed to assist people with developmental disabilities and their families. It is that valiant and skilled work force who we champion today.”

“We come together all working in a unified fashion to educate and share information and to advocate for improvements to services and improve the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities for people living in Brooklyn,” said Chair of the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council Ernie McNutt. “We are here today to rally for living wages for direct service professionals.”

McNutt discussed the importance of their continued rallies and the unfair treatment of these vital workers.

“The issue is foundational to the work we do in this field,” he stressed. “The network of agencies that provide services to people with disabilities cannot exist without direct support professionals. Those are the people that work hands-on in the day programs and the group homes. They are the people who work one-on-one in homes and apartments, out at stores where people shop, in the parks, in the recreation centers where people go to enjoy their neighborhood and the great quality of life we have here in Brooklyn.

“The care, passion and dedication needed for this work is incredible,” added McNutt. “This work is hard, challenging and it is not minimum-wage work.  They’re trained in excellent skills. They deserve a living wage.”

Brooklyn bFair rally 12-4-17 - 2

According to McAlvanah, last year, organizations around the state came together to fight for living wages with DSPs, whose low wage left many looking for other, less demanding work in better paying fields, causing a major staffing crisis in the field.

According to McAlvanah, data collected this year indicates that 30 percent of the jobs are vacant because agencies can’t find the people to fill them and don’t have pay necessary to fill them. McAlvanah also said that one in four direct care workers leaves the jobs in under a year because they can’t afford to stay in it.

“BeFair is urging Governor Cuomo and New York State lawmakers to speed up the implementation of funding that would provide a living wage for the nonprofit workforce in our state,” McAlvanah said, adding, “We are grateful that Cuomo and legislature heard our collective call that DSPs need and deserve a living wage. It is going to take a multi-year commitment to do this.”

That process has begun, said McAlvanah. “Effective this January, $55 million [was allocated] to adjust wages for direct support professionals and a second $55 million [was allocated] for indirect support wages starting in April of next year,” he said. Nonetheless, he stressed, “We can’t wait six years as originally planned.”

He added that BeFair2DirectCare is requesting that the remaining four installments be condensed into three installments over the next two fiscal years, $73 million on January 1, 2019, on April 1, 2019 and January 1, 2020, “to raise our folks to a living wage over the next two fiscal years. BeFair is seeking no additional funding.”

Anthony Martinez, an employee of the Guild for Exceptional Children since 2002, discussed his and his colleagues’ financial struggles.

“The work is comparable with that of a nurse or teacher,” he said. “Most important, it’s comparable with being a mentor. Unfortunately the pay of DSPs is subpar [compared to] the aforementioned professions. Many [start at a] minimum wage level. Some must take a second job in fast food or retail. The struggles I face in my personal life can be attributed to having a low wage and the concerns of not having the rent paid on time.”

One consumer, Chad D. spoke of the importance of DSPs. “[My DSP] supports me every day,” he said. “We are here for everyone together. We are here together to get DSPs money that they need.”

Elected officials also chimed in.

“They can’t live on the money they’re making,” said State Senator Marty Golden. “You want to see the same person stay that’s become your friend, that cries and laughs with you. We want to make sure we give them that opportunity to stay with you.”

“You can count on me to fight with you,” added Assemblymember Bill Colton. “I want to see you in Albany.”

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