ALBANY — An issue that has produced some heart-rending stories of caregivers struggling to survive on low wages and long hours to care for the disabled is close to a resolution: a raise in the workers’ pay, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday.
“All three sides agree: more pay for direct-care workers,” Heastie (D-Bronx) said. He said there is a “three-way agreement,” which is needed to get the funding into the state budget. No details were released.
The agreement would be the first from closed-door negotiations now underway for the 2017-18 state budget, which is due by April 1. But in Albany, most or all deals can be linked to others in the final budget deal, meaning no agreement is certain until the whole budget is approved.
Former Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), however, is taking the win.
“I know it’s real,” the veteran legislator said of the issue, to which he has devoted his retirement. He said state agencies are already anticipating paying these caregivers $14 an hour for those with the least experience, up from the current $9 an hour.
For the past two years since he retired, Weisenberg, the father of a disabled son, continued to advocate for the raises, as he did while serving in the Assembly. He spoke emotionally of the commitment of the caregivers despite the difficulty of their jobs and the low pay. When the state voted to raise the minimum wage last year, advocates argued that the state needed to also increase its funding to nonprofit groups so they didn’t have to cut staff or services and lose skilled workers to fast-food restaurants that pay more.
“It’s going to be an enormous boost for people to be able to hire and prevent workers from leaving because now they will be able to pay their bills and not have to work double shifts,” Weisenberg said in an interview. “We’re talking a living wage.”
The Republican-led state Senate also included $45 million in its budget proposal to provide raises for nonprofit agencies that depend on state funding to carry out services for New Yorkers with autism, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities.
“Thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities and their families rely on direct care professionals each day to handle basic necessities, as well as lifesaving tasks,” said state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “We owe it to those employees to provide the resources necessary to earn the fair wage they deserve so that qualified, compassionate individuals will continue to perform this vital and rewarding work.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is negotiating his $162 billion budget proposal, wouldn’t comment on any agreement.
“Budget negotiations and this and hundreds of other issues continue,” said Cuomo budget spokesman Morris Peters.