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Direct care ‘living wage’ garners N.Y. state legislature’s support

By Kenneth Lovett

ALBANY — A push for the state to help fund a “living wage” for direct care workers has major bipartisan support within the Legislature.

A majority of the lawmakers in the Assembly and nearly half in the Senate have written letters in support of adding $45 million to the state budget to help fund higher pay for direct care workers who deal with the mentally disabled.

The funding, under the plan, would be the first installment of a six-year commitment by the state to hike wages for the workers.

A bipartisan group of more than 80 legislators from the 150-member Assembly signed on to a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie asking that the chamber include $45 million in its upcoming budget proposal to help fund higher pay for direct care workers.

Many of them have also inundated Gov. Cuomo with letters in recent weeks asking that he add the $45 million commitment when he releases his 30-day amendments to his 2017-18 budget proposal that are due soon.

At least 30 senators from all three conferences have also written to Cuomo pushing the issue.

In the letters, the lawmakers warn that “highly skilled” direct care workers are leaving the field at increasingly high levels because the state’s non-profit providers cannot offer them competitive pay.

Most make between $10- and $13 an hour while providing “life preserving support for one of our most vulnerable populations,” many wrote.

Cuomo budget director Morris Peters said that the state’s decision to phase in a hike in the minimum wage to $15 a year in different parts of the state over the next several years “will lift thousands of low-wage workers and their families out of poverty.”

Peters said Cuomo’s budget proposal would pick up millions of dollars in provider costs for the minimum wage increase for direct care workers, and that “the dialogue with our non-profit partners remains ongoing.”

But the lawmakers say the minimum wage hike does not go far enough for direct care workers. Because the bulk of the provider revenue comes from public Medicaid funds, it’s up to the state to provide additional investments to help them raise pay beyond the $15-an-hour minimum wage, they said.

Supporters of the plan say that unlike private businesses, non-profit care providers don’t have the option to raise prices on products or reduce staff through automation,

“Direct support professionals are working long hours for little pay while providing supports and services to people with developmental disabilities,” the Assembly members wrote to Heastie. “Their work is deserving of much more than the minimum wage.”

Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland said that “we support the proposal which has broad bi-partisan consensus in our house,” and the issue is one reason the Dems are pushing to extend and expand an expiring tax surcharge on the rich.

A coalition of providers known as #bFair2DirectCare plan to hold a press conference Monday to highlight the growing legislative support.

Republished from New York Daily News.

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