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Disabled service providers say NY state must help them pay an increased minimum wage

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Governor Andrew Cuomo
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Flickr
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed raising the minimum wage for all workers in New York state, and has already acted unilaterally to raise the wage for fast food workers in the state.

Groups that serve the disabled say there’s inadequate funding in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget to place thousands of adults with developmental disabilities into group homes. And they say a proposed $15 an hour minimum wage will have a “devastating financial impact” for not-for-profits that serve that community.

The advocates say as recently as seven years ago -- just as the state’s fiscal crisis was hitting -- most parents were assured by the state there would be a place for their children, and spots in assisted living homes were found. Now, they say, after years of under funding, things have come to a grinding halt and nearly 6000 people with disabilities are on waiting lists.

Steve Kroll, executive director of New York State ARC, which offers services to disabled adults and their families, says the groups need at least an additional $50 million in the state budget (which is running a substantial surplus).

“We can do better than this,” Kroll said.

Karen Korotzer, with Oneida Lewis ARC, says the long waits can sometimes bring tragic results. One of her group’s long time clients is an adult with developmental disabilities, who had lived with his parents all of his life. His mother, now in her 80s, came to ARC saying she and her husband had worsening health issues that were making it increasingly difficult to care for their son -- including health problems.

They waited seven months for an answer from the state, with no success. Then, Korotzer learned that Joan suffered a fatal heart attack.

“Her son witnessed this,” Korotzer said, who adds Michael experienced trauma.

She says it was only then, when the son had nowhere else to go, that the state agency in charge of the disabled responded and placed him in a home.

Many factors have led to the crisis coming to a head. First, more parents with adult children who are disabled are aging and can no longer care for them.

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Credit Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr
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Flickr
Gov. Cuomo has previously presented legislation to protect vulnerable New Yorkers when he pushed for a Justice Center for People with Special Needs (Syracuse, May 2012).

The second factor that’s led to the shortage, advocates say, is that the Cuomo administration is transitioning more state subsidized health care into managed care, including mental health care and disabled services. The shift has already occurred at hospitals, who received state monies to help them with the changes. But the disabled services providers say the state has been stingy with the rest of the groups.

New York officials have also been feuding with the federal government over Medicaid funding, and as a result there’s been fewer federal dollars for reimbursement for services.

Kroll, with New York State ARC, says the governor’s proposed minimum wage increase to $15 an hour compounds the existing problems. He says the groups’ employees earn between $9.50 and $11.50 an hour.

“That is all we can afford to pay on the monies that are provided by the state,” said Kroll.

The groups say even if the legislature rejects Cuomo’s proposal to raise the minimum wage for all workers, there are still grave impacts. The governor has already acted unilaterally to raise the wage for fast food workers. The disabled care groups will either have to match that wage or see their workers go to McDonald’s and Burger King for jobs instead.

The groups are asking for another $135 million to help them pay their workers higher wages. Kroll says the groups have met with state agency officials and Cuomo’s budget office. He says they’ve been polite, but so far have done nothing.

“We can keep talking about this,” said Kroll. “But we need to see results in the final budget agreement.”

Sen. Kathy Young, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, says Senate Republicans will work to add the money.

Young is not a supporter of the $15 minimum wage increase.

The concerns of the disabled community comes as the governor cut a new advertisement for the $15 minimum wage, using the words of his late father, former Governor Mario Cuomo’s famous “Shining City on the Hill” speech to the 1984 National Democratic Convention.

Cuomo has said, when asked by reporters, that he will try to help not-for-profits who truly can’t afford to raise wages, but he has not yet offered a detailed plan.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.