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Advocates call for more funding for those who care for the disabled

Ellen Abbott
Advocates for those who work with the disabled rally in Syracuse Thursday

Advocates for the disabled in central New York aren’t standing still for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of legislation that would have improved the working conditions of the professionals that take care of disabled New Yorkers. 

The situation is reaching crisis proportions, say the people who run agencies that help New York’s disabled population. 10 percent of direct support professional jobs went unfilled last year. The turnover rate for those jobs is 25 percent. Pay continues to hover at minimum wage. Rich Gardner works in a residence for the disabled in central New York, and says the situation ultimately hurts the people it’s supposed to help.

“Our low wages hurt the people we work with because of the high rate of turnover,” said Gardner. “A lot of time, new staff learns how to work with somebody, and the person starts getting comfortable with us, and then we leave. So a new person comes in, and it starts all over again.”

Mary Salibrici says support staff saved her disabled brothers life recently when he had a bout with pneumonia. And for the work they do, they should make more than someone flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant.

“Their work, work that so often makes the actual difference between life and death, should ensure a living wage,” said Salibrici.

Rayven Pearsall, a direct support professional in the Syracuse-area, says salaries that hover at the minimum wage aren’t enough. 

“I should not have to worry about if my check will cover my groceries and cover my bills, if I work more than 40 hours a week. We support them, but we cannot do it alone,” said Pearsall.

Central New York lawmakers say they’re listening. State Sen. John DeFransisco (R-Syracuse) says the central New York delegation will urge Gov. Cuomo to include more funding for these jobs in next year’s budget.

“It’s bad enough trying to find good workers, but if they can’t afford their job caring for people, they’re going to go to McDonalds, and that’s going to put more pressure on the system,” said DeFrancisco.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.