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The Care Crisis: Was disability direct support included in Gov. Hochul's State of the State?

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session at the state Capitol, July 1, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.
Hans Pennink
AP Photo
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session at the state Capitol, July 1, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.

On Tuesday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul shared her vision for New York in her State of the State address, which often previews what may be included in her budget proposal.

WBFO’s Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins spoke with the head of a local disability services agency to get her reaction. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Emyle Watkins: This year, Governor Kathy Hochul’s 181 page State of the State book had several proposals regarding disability, including creating a plan to ensure people with disabilities are living as integrated as possible, issuing an executive order focused on improving employment, expanding transitional and specialized mental health housing and more.

Additionally, on Tuesday, the state announced it has received a waiver that will allow it to expand and change Medicaid services to improve healthcare staffing and social supports.

After Hochul’s public address, I spoke with Anne McCaffrey, President and CEO of People Inc to get her reaction.

Anne McCaffrey: So there were really three different things that she spoke about specifically and included in her informational packet that relate to people with developmental disabilities. In the first is her plan to issue an Olmstead Plan to really encourage and promote the most integrated setting for people with disabilities. So that concept is completely in lockstep with People Inc. In all of her, the three areas she spoke about, are in lockstep with People Inc's, our foundational values in our mission. And that is to encourage opportunities for complete integration, encourage opportunities for employment for all of our people served.

McCaffrey: And to her last piece, was really to look at the most independent living settings for people. And those are all areas that we're working towards together. So we were so pleased to hear all of those, you know, on the employment side for a moment, we've got the largest supported employment program in Western New York, we have over 500 people with disabilities working in all different aspects of employment throughout Western New York. And we're so proud of that. And it's wonderful to see the governor's desire to really expand that.

Watkins: And I know an important aspect of having an integrated setting and people living independently in the community is having a direct support professional or home care worker, but I noticed that in both her address and her booklet, the crisis wasn't directly addressed in the sense that I know a lot of agencies have been asking for improved funding, for a cost of living increase. So I'm wondering, what are your thoughts on that? And are you hopeful that we'll learn more in the executive budget?

McCaffrey: Absolutely. We're definitely hopeful we'll hear more in the executive budget next week. The DSP workforce crisis is definitely a crisis. We're seeing it, all of our partner agencies are seeing it, I know the state is seeing it. It's real. They're just is a shortage of people working in the DSP field and supporting the needs of people with developmental disabilities. So we really need to address that and its wages.

Watkins: And what do agencies like yours need to see in the budget to feel safe?

McCaffrey: The request this year is for a 3.2 percent rate increase, they call it a COLA [cost of living adjustment], but it's really a rate increase on the services that we provide. And keep in mind that increase is going to cover wage increases and all the other costs of operation, of operating a business such as ours. So it's, it's food, and it's utilities, and it's gas, and it's transportation, and all of the employee benefits, all of that, that goes up every year. And we know it's gone up substantially in the last few years. So all of that would be the 3.2 percent COLA that we're asking for on top of our rate. And then in addition to that, it's a $4,000 wage enhancement for our direct service professionals.

Watkins: And I know she did, as far as DSPs, mentioned in her state of the state book, she wants to pursue legislation that would allow direct support professionals to do more tasks for people with disabilities. As a service provider, I'm interested to hear like, where do you stand on that? And what are your thoughts on expanding what they can do?

McCaffrey: We're in agreement. If we can have, you know, there aren't enough nurses in the community either. So, if we can have DSPs, pick up some of those tasks that nurses are doing in other settings, I think you know that makes sense to us. And that's something we would support. The challenge is we can't do that with the current pay rate and recognizing that there's a current shortage.

End of Transcript

Hochul is expected to present her state budget next week, which will provide more details on many of the proposals outlined in her State of the State address.

You can watch a recording of her State of the State address here:

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Emyle Watkins