Non-profits could lose millions in minimum wage fight

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Kevin Horrigan, an associate vice president of People Inc., watched with interest Tuesday Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest stump speech on raising the minimum wage.

He was interested because the outcome of the fight for $15 dollars an hour could means millions of dollars in cuts to his agency.

Non profits across WNY started to hear the calls last summer, and they grew louder in January when the governor issued his latest state budget proposal, which included a priority for raising New York’s minimum wage to 15 dollars by 20-21.

“We are advocating for an increase in the minimum wage,” Horrigan said. “Our workers do some of the toughest jobs there are imaginable.”

But while People Inc. is working bring a living wage to more than 80 percent of its 3,500 employees, Horrigan said it needs the state to pick up the difference.

“The fact of the matter is, though, how are we supposed to pay those workers when they are 80 percent of what we do,” he said.

Here’s another fact, according to People Inc.: Without help, waiting lists will grow, and services and staff — like those offered at its satellite offices off Delaware Avenue — could be cut.

“The math just doesn’t add up,” Horrigan said.

The agency said the local difference is more than $3 million this year, growing to $14 million by 2021. It’s more than $270 million for non profits across the state this year.

“If, in fact, it doesn’t happen, there are decision that will have to be made,” Horrigan said.

People Inc. employees Melissa Levin and Aaron Dawes are conflicted. They want higher wages, but not at the expense of their jobs.

It’s scary,” said Dawes, who’s a team leader in the residential program. “We provide a lot of services for a lot of different people, and a lot of the staff that we have are great workers … great staff and I’d hate to see any of that be jeopardized.”

It could happen if the help isn’t offered, Horrigan said, because People Inc. — and non profits across WNY — have so little room to cut.

“Our back is up against a wall, us and all the other agencies, our back is against the wall,” he said. “Our backs have been against the wall over the last three or four years. This just makes it more severe.”

Whether those critical funds will be included in the governor’s budget could be determined by the middle or end of next month. That means not only will the board of agencies like People Inc. be keeping a close eye on Albany, but so will the people who depend on its services.

Horrigan said he remains optimistic about his chances. But People Inc. can’t create a budget out of chance and optimism. State officials say they’re hopeful, too.

Department of Health spokesman James C. Plastiras said the state could work out funding through Medicaid.

“This administration believes in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – especially for direct support professionals who provide an essential service to our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” Plastiras wrote in a statement. “The governor is committed to raising the minimum wage, while at the same time continuing to improve the state’s Medicaid program and maximize taxpayer dollars. We are reviewing the associated costs and remain confident that there is a way to do both.”

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