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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Agencies for disabled warn of rising wages creating crisis

ALBANY — Nonprofit groups that serve developmentally disabled youths and adults said Wednesday that the state’s rising minimum wage, a new federal overtime pay rule, and competition from higher wages planned for fast-food restaurants and retailers are creating an unexpected crisis in care.

Nonprofit groups that care for people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, serious brain injuries and other disabilities through public funding said the unintended consequences of the national trend to raise wages will hurt care of their clients. The organizations said higher wages will force their experienced workers to seek higher wages elsewhere, while sapping the groups’ resources to meet higher labor costs.

The caregivers are often paid the state minimum wage, which is now $9 an hour. Employers said they expect to lose workers in the difficult, hard-to-fill jobs when workers have to choose between their careers and higher wages at fast-food restaurants where the minimum wage will be $15 by 2021. Under public pressure, big retailers such as Walmart have also voluntarily committed to starting wages that will be higher than the state’s rising minimum wage.

A new federal labor rule also classifies more workers — including many at nonprofit organizations — to be paid overtime pay.

The nonprofit organizations say the state’s move to a $15 minimum wage over the next five years will force layoffs or reduced services unless the state also provides the groups with more Medicaid funding to cover the labor costs.

Former Assmb. Harvey Weisenberg of Long Beach returned to Albany Wednesday to continue to support nonprofit organizations that serve developmentally disabled people like his son, Ricky, who can’t speak and is blind. The Democrat said many of the workers in these tough jobs act as surrogate parents and are critical to providing effective, long-term care.

“Government has an obligation and a responsibility to take care of our people with disabilities,” Weisenberg said. “We are the voice for those who have no voice.”

The minimum wage law passed by the legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in April recognized the problem. The law includes $30 million to help nonprofit social service organizations operating on low incomes to afford the minimum wage of $9.75 as of Dec. 31.

But the advocacy group #bFair2DirectCare Coalition said the organizations will get no aid when the minimum wage hits its next phases on the way to $15 an hour.

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