BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Hundreds of Western New York direct care workers were feeling the love Tuesday afternoon in their fight for higher wages. Where was the love coming from? Their state lawmakers.
Western New York’s Albany delegation led a rally in support of higher funding for non-profit agencies that care for people with developmental disabilities, and higher wages for their workers. State Senator Tim Kennedy led the charge, “This isn’t a partisan issue, this isn’t even a Western New York issue, this is a human rights issue.”
The bi-partisanship was evident as Republican and Democrat members of the State Assembly and State Senate stood together pledging their support, and the movement is sweeping across New York, from Long Island to Niagara Falls.
Organizers have formed the bFair2DirectCare Coalition, and direct care workers from across Western New York packed the Buffalo Museum of Science auditorium to tell state lawmakers they need a raise, but the legislators who were gathered on the stage were already fired up.
It seems an unintended consequence of raising New York’s minimum wage earlier this year was putting economic pressure on direct care agencies who depend almost exclusively on state funding to provide services.
These are the people who care for those with physical and mental challenges, staff private and state owned group homes, and support those with developmental disabilities. Many of these workers’ pay is just above the minimum wage.
As the pay in sectors that require less skill, education, and risk of injury rises, direct care workers have less incentive to stay where they are. As Ismaila Mane of People, Inc. put it, the work is hard and the pay doesn’t seem to match their responsibilities.
“People come and they get hurt. They realize they could get more money doing something different, but they have to be dedicated.”
Nicole Judson is a team coordinator for a group home in Jamestown, operated by Aspire of Western New York, “It is a very demanding job, but it is also very rewarding, but we do not get paid enough which, in turn, causes staff to go other places to get paid more.”
The only way the not-for-profit direct care agencies can afford to pay the higher wages required by law is for the state to increase their funding, and Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples Stokes said that is exactly what they are going to do.
“It is kind of sad to hear people who work at McDonald’s being compared to people who work with somebody who is developmentally disabled and cannot survive without having that care support. So we have to do our due diligence and make sure that these jobs are fully funded.”
Without the additional funding Peoples Stokes said enforcing the minimum wage on a direct care agencies becomes another unfunded mandate. State lawmakers said the increase in funding will be a top priority in the new legislative session next year.