The Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council (BDDC) hosted its annual legislative breakfast at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, 2911 West 15th Street, on Friday, March 9 to discuss once again with local representatives the future of services funding for Brooklyn residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The event highlighted BFair2DirectCare, the call to action to remind state leaders that direct care not-for-profit agency workers deserve more financial help, as well as providing the opportunity to discuss the struggle to recruit and retain direct support professionals (DSPs).
“We’re in the midst of a crisis with our workforce,” explained Executive Director foof the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) Paul Cassone. “ The Guild is a great place and a great way to help people, but it’s also pretty challenging. With the minimum wage going up, they can get paid the same or better right now at Best Buy, Key Food or any of these stores, and that’s creating a real problem within the workforce.”
Progress made on the state level last year, Cassone added, has “been helpful and we are very thankful for that, but it has not stopped the bleeding. We are still losing people faster than we can hire new people.” Funding to support pay increases “was originally supposed to be given to us over a period of six years. We need it now over a period of three years. By speeding it up this way, we’ll get to be at least a little above the minimum wage.”
Michael Bolton, the parent of a son with developmental disabilities, spoke to attendees with his wife and son on hand.
“Direct support professionals are the driving force that enables all of our intellectually and developmentally disabled family members to live a happy and rich life with a variety of social and life-affirming opportunities and the chance to be a true part of their community,” he said. “ DSPs are there when parents and other family members can’t be. Unfortunately so many DSPs are unable to continue this work because they can’t support their own families on the wages. Most who continue as DSPs have to no choice but to work three jobs and often access government assistance. When a highly qualified DSP leaves the workforce, it’s most often not because they don’t like the job but because they can’t survive on the salary.”
“Being with the Guild for 16 years, I’ve worked with individuals who I’ve seen grow to become fantastic individuals that are leaders in themselves,” said Anthony Martinez, a DSP for GEC. “Being a DSP is not an easy occupation. As many of you know, it can be stressful due to the high demands of our individuals. We’re role models and mentors for these individuals and our work is comparable with that of a nurse or a teacher but unfortunately the pay of a DSP is subpar compared to them.”
Martinez added that DSPs “worry about being able to keep up with rent on a monthly basis or keeping up with bills due to the low wage. To the governor, much has been accomplished. We are so appreciative of what you have done for us but there is still so much that needs to be done and we implore members of the legislature to recognize the work we do as DSPs. Visit our facilities and see what we do for our individuals and what we do to help them grow every day.”
Elected officials in attendance chimed in.
“I love that the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council brings everyone together,” Councilmember Justin Brannan told this paper. “It’s very personal to me. I have people in my family with developmental disabilities and I have people in my family who worked with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I’ve seen both sides of it. We have a real laser-focused fight right now. We’re all trying to row in the same direction and we’re all on the same page.”
“We should focus less on the bottom line and more on how to help those with developmental disabilities achieve their highest aspirations and goals,” added State Senator Marty Golden. “I know you all struggle to support your direct support staff with a living wage and meet the needs of those dealing with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I am proud to announce, along with my colleagues here today, that we delivered a 3.25 percent increase in January this year as part of last year’s budget with another 3.25 percent increase to take place on April 1, for a total of 6.5 percent.”
He added that the increase wasn’t enough.
“Our clients need that help and they want those familiar faces,” he said. “It’s up to us to guarantee that happens and give them the quality of life they deserve because they are our neighbors, family and community.”
“This is a vulnerable population that needs our support and advocacy,” added Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis.