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Agencies that support people with disabilities pushing state for more funding

(Left to Right) Tanesha Cook, Joe Richards and Maxine Bostick
Racquel Stephen
(Left to Right) Tanesha Cook, Joe Richards and Maxine Bostick

Joe Richards couldn’t hide his disappointment when speaking about the turnover he sees among his direct support providers.

“I get frustrated,” he said. “They come, and they leave.”

Richard is a longtime client of The Arc of Monroe, a nonprofit that provides resources and services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families. He said the constant staff turnaround weighs on him.

“Makes me sad. I get attached to people,” Richards said.

Another client, Tanesha Cook, said her quality of care suffers when employees quit.

“It affects me emotionally and physically and mentally,” said Cook, who relies on caregivers for basic needs like showering.

In an effort to end this cycle, agencies like The Arc are pushing Gov. Kathy Hochul to increase funding so employers can raise the hourly rate for those working with individuals with disabilities.

“It will ensure we have more staffing to help increase the quality of care for the people supported,” said Maxine Bostick, who has been working for The Arc of Monroe for seven years.

Bostick said although she loves her role as a direct support provider, sometimes that’s not enough.

“When we are competing with fast food restaurants, people would rather go work in fast food than come and take care of someone because the job is just easier,” she said.

The starting salary for a direct service professional is about $44,000 a year, according to the state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, and the hours can be long.

Bostick said she sometimes works 80 hours a week just to make ends meet. And although she and her coworkers try to help each other – “We have a saying, ‘Tap out, don’t burn out,” Bostick said – it's a lot of work.

Bostick said even with people working overtime, since they’re so short-staffed, it’s a challenge to meet all their clients’ needs.

“People can't go out and get their nails and feet done, they can't go to a baseball game, they can't have that one-on-one time,” she said.

The instability also trickles down to the clients’ relatives.

David Irish’s daughter receives therapeutic and clinical services from The Arc of Monroe, and the coming and going of support staff is alarming, he said.

“I see her every weekend, but these are the people that she lives with and the constant turnover – and for me the worry that someone's not going to be there – is scary,” Irish said.

He said the state needs to step up.

“Budgets are about priorities, and we just have not been a priority,” Irish said. “And we're not taking care of this vulnerable population.”

Both The Arc of Monroe and CDS Monarch, another nonprofit agency that provides services to those with disabilities, are advocating for an 8.5% increase to the direct service providers budget, and a permanent wage increase.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.