Nonprofit provider agencies funded by OPWDD deliver about 85% of the needed day-to-day services to the 130,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in New York State. Caring for people with complex needs is a rewarding yet difficult job which requires a high level of responsibility and skill. These are not minimum wage jobs. But due to inadequate funding for salaries, we have had an average Medicaid increase of one-half-of-one-percent per year over the last eight years, we are losing our direct support professionals (DSPs) to higher paying job sectors which continue to increase their hourly wages.
Our statewide vacancy rate for DSPs in 2016 was 11%, a 43% increase over 2014, and many local agencies throughout the state have vacancy rates in excess of 20%. Our turnover rates are also problematic with nearly one in every four DSPs leaving the job in less than a year.
To address this workforce crisis, The Arc New York helped create a coalition of all the major developmental disabilities agencies in New York State and was one of the driving forces behind the #bFair2DirectCare campaign.
It is absolutely critical that we secure the funding needed to pay our DSPs a living wage. If we do not, our programs could be reduced or eliminated, and many years of progress in community integration and deinstitutionalization will be lost. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities will no longer be able to choose the activities they wish to engage in because there won’t be staff to help them. The state will have no choice but to add far more expensive state employees and the cost to taxpayers will skyrocket.
While we were successful in 2017 in getting the Governor and Legislature to include $191 million in the enacted state budget to provide two consecutive 3.25% wage increases for DSPs, that is not enough to fully fund living wages for DSPs. Therefore, we will continue to advocate with our #bFair2DirectCare coalition to secure additional funding to fully fund living wages for DSPs.