Developmental disability advocates rally in light of inadequate funding crisis

Dozens of direct support professionals (DSP), advocates and disabled individuals from HeartShare Human Services and other nonprofits braved the heat on Friday, July 15 in order to take part in a rally on the steps of New York City Hall.

The rally was held to draw attention to an epidemic of inadequate funding plaguing not-for-profit organizations serving people with developmental disabilities, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to address the issue in the next state budget.

DSPs, special education teaching assistants, cooks and drivers earn an average salary of $9.62 to $10.78 statewide. As part of their job description, they are required to dispense medication, be trained in and perform CPR, conduct fire drills and emergency evacuations, deal with challenging behaviors in a diplomatic manner, document delivery services necessary to bill Medicaid and teach necessary life skills to the adults and children they work with everyday.

“It is a very skillful job that requires a lot of talent and training,” said Peter Pierri, executive director of the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies. “In order for these employees to remain doing this work, they need to be paid a living wage. Right now, we are experiencing a very significant turnover and a lot of vacancies due to the pay rates.”

Ralliers held signs stating “We Work Too Hard for Too Little” and “Be Fair to Direct Care” as they listened to statements from supportive politicians, DSPs and parents of individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I went to Albany to advocate for these agencies, all agencies,”said Gilbert Plaza, a self-advocate who works within HeartShare and also advocated for the opening of an accessible group residence. “We have got good staff but the thing is we need more funding; $15 [an hour] for rent is nothing.”

In the meantime, providers of adult services are asking their staff to work overtime in order to make up for the budget crisis. Last year, these agencies paid for over six million hours of overtime. One in every four of these frontline support staff members leaves his or her job each year due to a rising cost of living that is not compensated with rising wages, a statistic that has risen 20 percent in the past year.

“I am proud to stand with those who every day serve our most needy,” said State Senator Martin Golden. “There is no denying that better training, better pay and better benefits are necessary for the current members of this workforce, and to encourage more people to work in this field in the future.”

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