Opinion: Be fair to direct care, says Colton resident
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 8:10 am

To the Editor:

I am sending this letter to Governor Cuomo, Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Marc Butler asking them to add $45 million dollars to the state budget to create pay equity for direct support professionals who provide services to people with developmental disabilities.

Developmental disabilities are caused by a change to the central nervous system. This can be due to the way the nervous system operates or damage to its structure. This affects each person differently. But it can result in an intellectual disability, difficulty walking or not being able to walk at all, difficulty processing language or social cues from others, behavioral issues or not even being able to take care of their own needs such as eating or bathing.

Some people who have developmental disabilities lead independent lives. Others need some assistance from others. Others need a significant amount of care. Still others are completely dependent on others to live. Family members and friends are very important to all people but sometimes there are people who need so much more than a family can offer.

New York provides phenomenal programs, staffing, care and services to individuals with developmental disabilities. We should be proud. We are an advanced society that takes care of each other.

But we need to continue to improve what we are doing.

Non-for-profit agencies around the state provide care and support to 85% (about 128,000) of people with developmental disabilities in their homes and in communities. The people who provide this individualized and intimate care for people with special needs are called direct support professionals (DSPs). DSPs ensure people’s safety, bathe, dress, administer medication, facilitate behavior intervention plans, assist with bowel regimens, advocate, intervene in crisis, and keep people engaged in their life and in their community. They develop close relationships with the people they serve.

People with developmental disabilities can have difficulty undertaking the activities of daily living. This includes becoming financially self-sufficient. Supplemental Security Income is administered through the Social Security system, and has resource limitations – it is for very poor people. Medicaid offers coverage for a wide variety so services, but is only for those who have almost no financial resources.

When I hear politicians threatened to cut Social Security or vilify the Medicaid system I worry about those who depend on these systems for their support and care. When someone threatens to cut Social Security or Medicaid I view it as a threat to the security of the poorest and more vulnerable members of our society.

The challenge to providing services is that cuts to Medicaid make it very difficult to offer DSPs much more that minimum wage for the demanding work they do. Non-profit agencies have a 20% vacancy rate for these positions because it is difficult for many people to consider taking on such responsibility for such low pay. The turnover rate in the first year is 28%. The work is demanding, it is not for everyone, and pays barely above minimum wage. Non-profit agencies cannot charge more for their services. Any increase in funding must come from state reimbursement.

I am requesting my state legislators to include $45 million dollars in the state budget each year for the next 6 years to compensate DSPs in accordance to the importance of the work they do. You can find out more looking up bfair2directcare.

Please join me in asking the Governor and New York State Legislature to Be Fair 2 Direct Care!

James A. Williams