“Be fair to direct care!”
This chant filled the auditorium of St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights on February 3, when representatives of HeartShare Human Services and the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) and local government officials were among those who took part in a rally calling for fair wages for Direct Service Professionals (DSPs). DSPs provide services and care for adults and children with intellectual and development disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and brain injuries.
The rally was the latest in a series of events held across the entire state as part of a campaign on behalf of direct care workers. These workers serve over 128,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities.
The wages of DSPs are based on government funding, as they are paid by non-profits. More than 90 percent of the funding that these organizations receive goes towards paying staff wages. The only way their staff members, which include DSPs, teacher’s aides, drivers and cooks, can make more is for the state government to increase their rate. The goal of the rally was to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to allocate $45 million a year for the next six years to fund a living wage for these direct care workers.
Frank Sena, a board member at the Bay Ridge-based GEC, and a parent of a child with disabilities, has first-hand experience with the work that DSPs provide. Sena said, “Our DSPs care for our children, our adults and our seniors 24 hours a day, every day of every week.
“As a GEC board member I also understand the devastating effect of unfunded mandates on the viability of our agency,” he added.
The auditorium was filled to capacity with DSPs, their patients and their families, and advocates. There were so many people that the college provided extra seating outside the auditorium where people could hear the presenters over a loudspeaker.
Officials including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, State Senator Marty Golden and Assemblymembers Nicole Malliotakis, Pamela Harris and Peter Abbate all participated in the rally, a great showing of bipartisan support.
Golden said, “Sadly, many of our direct care workers are forced to work other jobs in order to support their families. The governor must adopt a funding plan that allows non-profit groups to retain qualified employees by paying a salary that allows these same workers to meet their financial needs.”
Harris, who attended the rally even with a case of strep throat, cited her favorite song, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” She then asked the crowd, “How are you [the patients] supposed to live without direct support services?”
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our state’s most vulnerable individuals receive proper care and remain in the most capable hands,” added Malliotakis. “Direct-care professionals are vital to the well-being of those with disabilities and special needs. It is imperative that this year’s budget include funding to meet new wage mandates and keep these important caretakers on the job.”