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Disability service providers asking Hochul for more money in new budget

The New York state Capitol building at night, in Albany, NY.
The New York state Capitol building at night, in Albany, NY.

Groups that advocate for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to provide more money for needed services. They say more than a decade of neglect has pushed them to the breaking point.

The effort, named “Invest in Me,” includes CP State, a not-for-profit organization with nearly 30 affiliates that provide services and programs for more than 100,000 New Yorkers who have cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities and their families. Those services include medical care, child care, transportation and workforce training and employment.

CP State’s Mike Alvaro said the groups are funded through the government health program Medicaid. They are asking for a 3.2% cost-of-living increase in reimbursements from the state and federally financed Medicaid program.

He said Hochul has been more generous than her predecessors, granting a cost-of-living increase during the two years she has overseen the state budget. But he said the amount does not make up for a prior decade-long freeze on the rate for Medicaid reimbursements.

“We're really looking for an investment in the disability field to make up for what was more than a decade of indifference,” Alvaro said.

He said since 2016, there’s been an 8% decrease in the number of residential spots available, day care slots have been reduced by 17% and clinical programs are a tenth smaller.

The nonprofits are also struggling with a severe staffing shortage, with 20% of positions currently vacant. Alvaro said that’s because Medicaid only allows providers to pay around $16 an hour. He said the groups can’t compete with the fast-food industry and other retail outlets, which often offer more than that as a starting wage.

New York state, which provides a much smaller number of similar services, pays $23 an hour for the same jobs.

Alvaro’s group and other providers are asking the state to supplement the wages they pay their 19,000 employees, so they can pay them an average of $4,000 more per year by increasing the Direct Support Wage Enhancement program.

“It allows providers to, on average, make a $2 per hour investment in our workforce,” Alvaro said. “These are direct support folks. It’s clinicians, it’s direct care workers, our drivers, other folks that are directly supporting people with disabilities.”

Alvaro said the investment is worth it. He points to a SUNY Rockefeller Institute study, which found that nonprofit disability service providers in New York generate $14.3 billion in economic input, help support nearly 200,000 jobs and contribute over $2 billion in federal and state tax revenue.

The groups know they will have an uphill battle this year. Hochul’s budget office has already warned that 2024 will be lean. With a projected budget gap of more than $4 billion, the governor has already asked state agencies to hold the line on spending.

“We are hearing that it's going to be a difficult budget year that there aren't a lot of dollars,” he said.

But he said if the nonprofit private providers can’t offer the services, then the state will have to pick up the programs at a significantly higher cost.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.