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Disabled & caregivers say state money needed to help pay $15 minimum wage

Karen DeWitt
WRVO News File Photo
Arthur Mims with his caregiver Tiffany Torres at a state Capitol rally Wednesday.


People with developmental disabilities and their caretakers held a rally at the state Capitol Wednesday to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo for financial help if he’s successful in pushing through a $15 minimum wage.

Providers to people with developmental disabilities say they want their employees to earn more money. Steve Kroll, with  NYSARC, says many of its staffers earn less than $15 an hour right now.

“We support giving them pay hikes, because their work is incredibly  important,” said Kroll.

But he says salaries that the groups pay are tied to Medicaid contracts that they hold with the state, and the  Medicaid reimbursements have been frozen for the past six years under Cuomo. Kroll, says without a subsidy, they are left with no good choices.

“We will end up either having to reduce the services we provide or having to have less staff," said Kroll. “Which is a horrible, horrible outcome.”

Arthur Mims, who is head of a self advocacy group, spoke along with one of his caretakers, Tiffany Torres, at the rally. Mims says Torres helps him with many things, like taking him to appointments, and deserves more money.

“She cares about us,” Mims said. “We really want to keep her here more.”

Tiffany Torres is a certified medical workers and direct support professional. She says in the past, neglect of the disabled has led to dire consequences.   

“You cannot forget the horrors that come when you cut staff,” Torres said. “We know the history.”

Cuomo has sent mixed messages about whether he will provide state subsidies to the developmentally disabled providers and other not for profits that hold contracts with the state for services to the disabled, as well as home health care. Last month, he said he’d consider the matter, as long as the providers were not making excess profits. Speaking this week  after a rally to promote the $15 minimum wage, Cuomo said in the past, when the rate has gone up, the state has not made up the difference in costs to the not for profits.

“We raise the minimum wage all the time, we’ve raised it about eight times over the past couple of decades,” Cuomo said. “We have never adjusted the contracts to reflect the minimum wage increase.”

But Kroll says the state has never proposed raising the wage so high so fast.

“There’s no precedence of raising the minimum 65 percent over six years,” Kroll said. “There’s no precedence of holding us to no funding increase for six straight years.”

The groups did receive a 4 percent increase in last year’s budget, retroactive to an eight-year period.

Cuomo also brought up a fight he had with not for profits over a cap on top salaries of executives to $200,000 or less. The groups say the issue was resolved years ago, and not for profits have to sign a pledge to adhere to the cap. They called bringing up that issue now a red herring.

Catholic Church leaders also brought up the issue in a meeting with Cuomo.  The church runs hospitals as well as Catholic Charities, that are also dependent on Medicaid reimbursements for large portions of their budgets. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in an interview with public radio and TV,  says Cuomo told him that he would consider helping the Catholic groups.

Dolan says Cuomo conceded that the Catholic leaders had a “good point.”

Dolan was asked whether he thinks the subsidies will end up in the final state budget, due March 31.

“I hope so,” Dolan said. “I think so.”

Dolan says the church supports a “living wage”  for workers, but leaves the exact amount up to the experts. The cardinal gave the blessing at the governor’s minimum wage rally held at the state Capitol.  

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.