Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced $1.5 billion in one-time funding for caregivers of people with developmental disabilities.
The federal funding, in the form of recruitment efforts, retention incentives and vaccination bonuses, will target more than 110,000 workers in New York, known as direct support professionals, who help clients develop daily living skills including feeding and bathing. The state, which once housed developmentally disabled people in institutions, now relies on those professionals to provide care in small group homes scattered throughout residential neighborhoods.
For months, leaders of some nonprofit agencies that employ many of the support professionals have warned that low pay and challenging workloads were creating a labor shortage. The pandemic worsened the stress because of the job's close-contact requirements, advocates said. Rising wages in retail and other industries also lured workers away as the state-set reimbursements that provide most revenues for nonprofits providing care stagnated.
"On Long Island, especially, we have so much competition for the $15-an-hour person," said Walter Stockton, president of Independent Group Home Living, a Manorville-based nonprofit that is a major provider of services to those with disabilities in the region.
"The people who take our jobs have so much more responsibility than someone at McDonald’s or Waldbaums," Stockton said, adding that he hoped the move would lead to permanent salary increases for support professionals.
"We are excited about the fact we can pay these people, who through no fault of their own, barely make a living wage."
In a news release Thursday, Hochul said some of money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act will go into a "Heroes Fund," providing incentive payments to support professionals who worked during the pandemic, with additional payments for those who received the Covid vaccine. Another portion of the funds will pay for retention bonuses, "long-term recruitment and retention strategies," and other efforts to build the skills of caregivers and front-line supervisors, the governor said.
"Direct Support Professionals provided essential support to people with developmental disabilities throughout the pandemic when we needed them most, in spite of the risk to themselves and their own families," Hochul said.
The funds are only available to family care providers and direct support workers employed by voluntary service providers, according to the release, though discussions are "ongoing" about providing funds to direct support workers employed by the state.
According to the website for the state’s Office of People With Developmental Disabilities, starting salary for state employees called direct support assistants is $37,507 per year.
A survey of direct support professional jobs with Long Island nonprofits on the website Indeed.com Thursday afternoon showed multiple openings paying about $15 per hour; one offered up to $17.50 for work with people with behavioral challenges.