Legislators at the New York State Capitol in Albany are negotiating...

Legislators at the New York State Capitol in Albany are negotiating the 2024-25 state budget that could address the Medicaid funding gap. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

More than 130,000 New Yorkers are living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and 85% of them are served by nonprofit providers. Over the last decade, the nonprofit I/DD community has experienced a dramatic shortfall in staffing, high turnover rates, and rising costs of operations that are no longer met by Medicaid funding. This gap is growing larger and makes it difficult to meet the essential needs of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

State legislators negotiating the 2024-25 state budget can address this funding gap by committing the necessary resources to ensure that vital care can be provided for people living with I/DD by investing in the agencies and professionals who serve this population.

The Invest in Me campaign is supported by nonprofit provider associations across the state. This campaign is seeking legislative support for a 3.2% cost-of-living adjustment in the Medicaid reimbursement rate along with a $4,000 base salary increase for direct support professionals, the workers who support people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in this year’s budget.

The nonprofit I/DD community is not immune to inflation. Operating costs for repairs and maintenance of residential homes, program facilities, food, supplies, and transportation for the people we support, along with mandated staff fringe benefits and insurance costs continue to outpace the current proposed 1.5% cost-of-living adjustment in this year’s budget. I/DD provider agencies are primarily funded by Medicaid and New York State contracts and have no authority to increase our service fees to compensate for these increased costs.

Direct support professionals provide vital, daily care and assistance to individuals with I/DD, including meal preparation, medication administration, transportation, and behavior support. They also offer essential emotional and psychological support, personal care, money management, and life skills training so that individuals with I/DD may attain independence. These workers are the most important resource we have to support people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, nonprofit agencies have seen a crippling level of staff turnover — 30% statewide, which is estimated to cost them over $100 million annually. As a result, more than 17% of positions remain vacant, reducing the quality and availability of essential services to the I/DD population.

Recruiting and retaining skilled workers can be enhanced through a bill in Albany that would provide agencies with annual funding of $4,000 per eligible employee to be used to enhance the hourly rate for these staff members.

Passing this bill would take a critically important step toward addressing the inequity in wages between nonprofit providers, who can only afford to offer new workers slightly above the state’s minimum wage, and state-operated facilities, which can afford to offer starting wages that are 65% above the state’s minimum wage.

As the leader of a nonprofit supporting people with I/DD for 40 years, I know that the future of this industry lies in the hands of Albany. I speak for the 2,200 direct support professionals employed by the Kinexion Network on Long Island who are the backbone of our industry and deserve a fair wage.

The New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation, the Inter Agency Council, and the New York Disability Advocates are aligned in supporting these budget requests, which represent a significant public investment in the nonprofit agencies and staff who care for people with I/DD.

  

This guest essay reflects the views of Walter Stockton, president and chief executive of the Kinexion Network, a management service organization for an affiliate network of seven Long Island nonprofits supporting 5,000 people living with I/DD.

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