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Forum at Arc focuses on low wages for direct care workers

Provided photos: Wearing shirts that say “My heart is full but my wallet is empty” are direct support staff employed by Arc of Genesee  Orleans Without Walls Day Habilitation program in Albion. Pictured are Ramona Fuller, Sherri Weese, Suzanne Verheyn and Laurie Moyer.

Posted 21 March 2018 at 7:50 am

Press Release, Arc of Genesee Orleans

BATAVIA – The fight for a living wage for Direct Support Professionals in New York State took center stage Friday night at the Arc of Genesee Orleans Community Center.

Amid signs and buttons proclaiming #bFair2DirectCare, Arc staff and individuals sat down with Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Jay Grasso of Senator Mike Ranzenhofer’s office and Maddilyn Genovese  representing Senator Robert Ortt.

Agencies like Arc of Genesee Orleans were promised funding last year to be able to give direct care staff a 3.25 percent wage increase, effective in January.

“If the State of New York has promised someone something, then they need to deliver,” Assemblyman Hawley said. “You should have had it.  You should have been able to spend it. You should have received what you were promised. The state of New York too often doesn’t deliver on its promises.”

For nearly eight years, non-profit agencies which serve New Yorkers with developmental disabilities went without a funding increase, leaving Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) at low wages despite their critical work. To address this issue, #bFair2DirectCare formed and waged a statewide educational campaign to win funding for a living wage, phased in over six years.

Deb Fox, associate executive director of Residential Services for the Arc, oversees 16 community homes and several supportive apartments in two counties. She asked the legislative representatives for their insight.

“While the fast food industry has the ability to raise prices and reduce their overhead to raise wages, our reimbursement rates are set,” she said. “The regulatory expectations of social programs ties our hands. What is your suggestion on how we can compete for quality labor?”

Assemblyman Hawley replied, “I’m in business myself. It certainly is ludicrous that someone who is ‘working hard’ flipping burgers, pulling fries and onion rings can make $15 an hour when you and some of my employees don’t make that much.”

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Maddilyn Genovese from State Sen. Robert Ortt’s office and Jay Grasso from State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer hold up signs made by Arc of Genesee Orleans staff.  One sign stood out – it states “Sorry I could not attend today, I am working my second job.”

This is an issue that hits particularly close to home for Mr. Grasso.

“I have a family member with special needs and receives extra care,” he said. “I see the people who help… and then I see their salaries. It’s abysmally unfair.”

He urged the Arc of Genesee Orleans to keep up the fight for fair direct care wages.

Ortt is the chairman of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee in the Senate. He will continue to be a strong advocate for each and every one of you this year, said Maddilyn Genovese, communications director for Ortt.

Staff who spoke to the representatives shared their love for the work they do and the people they serve, but also having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Direct Support Professional Nevada Burch told the panel that besides her full time job at the Day Habilitation Center in Elba, she has two other direct care jobs, works in a restaurant and sells essential oils. She asked them to please find out why Direct Support Professionals in residential and day programs operated by the New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities are paid a significantly higher wage for doing the same work.

Arc of Genesee Orleans posts frequent updates on its Facebook page on news surrounding the #bFair2DirectCare campaign.

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