© 2022 Innovation Trail

Disabled services providers concerned about minimum wage proposal, adult placements

Karen DeWitt

Groups that serve the disabled say there’s inadequate funding in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget to place thousands of adults with developmental disabilities into group homes. They also say a proposed $15 minimum wage will have a “devastating financial impact” for the nonprofit groups.

The advocates say that as recently as seven years ago, just as the state’s fiscal crisis was hitting, most parents were assured by the state that there would be a place for their children, and spots in assisted living homes were found.

Now, they say, after years of underfunding, things have come to a “grinding halt,” and nearly 6,000 people with disabilities are on waiting lists.

Steve Kroll, executive director of New York State ARC, which offers services to disabled adults and their families, says the groups need a minimum of an additional $50 million in the state budget, which is running a substantial surplus.

“We can do better than this,” Kroll said.

Karen Korotzer with Oneida Lewis ARC says the long waits can sometimes bring tragic results. She says one of her group’s longtime clients, Michael, is an adult with developmental disabilities who had lived with his parents all of his life. His mother, Joan — who is now in her 80s — came to ARC, saying that she and her husband had worsening health issues that were making it increasingly difficult to care for their son.

They waited seven months for an answer from the state, with no success. Then, Korotzer found that Joan suffered a fatal heart attack at home.

“Her son witnessed this,” Korotzer said, who said Michael experienced “trauma.”

She says it was only then, when Michael had nowhere else to go, that the state agency that is in charge of the disabled responded and placed him in a home.

Many factors have led to the crisis coming to a head. First, more parents with adult children who are disabled are aging and can no longer care for them.

The second factor that’s led to the shortage, advocates say, is that the Cuomo administration is transitioning more state-subsidized health care into managed care, including mental health care and disabled services. The shift already has occurred at hospitals, which received state funds to help them with the changes.

But the disabled services providers say the state has been stingy with the rest of the groups.

New York officials also have been feuding with the federal government over Medicaid funding, and as a result there have been fewer federal dollars for reimbursement for services.

Kroll, with New York State ARC, says the governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour compounds the existing problems. He says the groups’ employees earn between $9.50 and $11.50 an hour.

“That is all we can afford to pay on the monies that are provided by the state,” said Kroll.

The groups say even if the State Legislature rejects Cuomo’s proposal to raise the minimum wage for all workers, there are still grave effects. The governor has already acted unilaterally to raise the wage for fast-food workers. The disabled care groups will either have to match that wage or see their workers go to places like McDonald’s and Burger King for jobs instead.

The groups are asking for another $135 million to help them pay their workers higher wages. Kroll says the groups have met with state agency officials and Cuomo’s budget office. He says they’ve been polite, but so far, they have done nothing.

“We can keep talking about this,” said Kroll. “But we need to see results in the final budget agreement.”

Sen. Cathy Young, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, says Senate Republicans will work to add the money.

Young is not a supporter of the $15 minimum wage increase.

The concerns of the disabled community comes as Cuomo cut a new advertisement for the $15 minimum wage, using the words of the famous “Shining City on the Hill” speech that his late father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, made to the 1984 national Democratic convention.

Cuomo has said, when asked by reporters, that he will try to help nonprofit groups that truly can’t afford to raise wages, but he has not yet offered a detailed plan. 

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.