Direct Service Professionals Deserve Better Pay

A legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
There are thousands of direct service professionals across the state who work to provide quality care to the elderly, developmentally disabled, and to those struggling with addiction.

Yet with all the responsibility they are given, their wages continue to be historically low.

In this budget, I am advocating for more funding for direct service professionals in order that these workers can continue to care for some of our most vulnerable residents, help keep them in their homes, meet their healthcare needs, and ensure a quality of life for people who need assistance.

Direct Service Professionals are employed by various non-profit organizations that are reimbursed by state agencies such as Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Service.

Together, these organizations employ 90% of the direct service professionals who provide assistance and meet healthcare needs of more than 200,000 residents across the state.

But the incremental minimum wage hikes instituted in the last decade have left many organizations unable to compete with other jobs that have less responsibility.

These skilled, compassionate, and trained professionals who provide a lifeline for people with special needs have been forced to choose between keeping their jobs where they care for people and leaving for higher-paid work in retail or fast food restaurants.

Vacancy rates have climbed like no time before and, as a result, a coalition of advocacy groups formed known as #bFair2DirectCare to address the crisis and make it known to lawmakers in Albany.

As a result, the 2017-18 budget included some additional funding for DSPs.

This was the first time in years the workers had seen an increase but at the time, the Governor indicated that future budgets would include funding for additional wage increases to make them more competitive with other jobs.

This year’s budget proposal, however, keeps funding flat for these workers.

This needs to change before a final budget is passed this spring.

During the budget hearings, once again we heard troubling testimony about basic needs not being met due to this staffing crisis.

Providers are seeing: increases in medication errors; medical appointments being missed because of a lack of workers who can transport patients; individuals being moved from normal residences and placed in alternate homes on weekends or holidays to consolidate staffing; and community outings and social opportunities being cancelled.

Without proper staffing, it puts those with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other intellectual and developmental disabilities at risk and leaves people vulnerable to additional medical problems and associated care costs that could have been avoided.

Our government has made great strides in supporting those with disabilities.

We need to continue this trend in order to maintain people’s quality of life, keep people living as independently as possible, and provide care that they need.

I am interested to hear from you on this important topic and/or other state budget matters.

If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.