Governor’s wage board ignores State role in low wages
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Bryan O’Malley, Executive Director
Workers, consumers and representatives of fiscal intermediaries in the State’s Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPA) are expressing disbelief today as Governor Cuomo cites the great President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call for a raise in the fast food industry, while ignoring the State’s role in continuing to require wages that border on the poverty level in CDPA.
Yesterday, in an Op-Ed, Governor Cuomo quoted President Roosevelt as saying, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” Yet as he makes his proposal for a wage board, he ignores the business of health care, of which the State is directly involved as rate setter.
While consumers and workers in CDPA are happy for those in the fast food industry who will likely be getting a much deserved increase, they are noting that the Governor’s statements are hollow in light of the fact that he is hiding behind numerous Medicaid reform efforts to disguise the fact that Medicaid payment for CDPA is lower today than it was in 2006. Advocates note it was in 2012, the first full year of reform, when the State’s average payments began falling to their current rate. No other industry would be expected to operate at $.07 lower than what they were in 2006, almost $4 lower than what inflation would have been.
FIs, the agencies that work with Medicaid, are the most efficient in the health care sector, relying on only 8-12% overhead; but, even those low expenses cannot offset the almost $4 gap caused by inflation over that time period.
This ten year freeze has had real life effects for workers. For instance, as Governor Cuomo looks at the fast food industry, it is important to note that outside of New York, Westchester and Long Island, this entirely Medicaid funded industry has an average hourly wage of $10.28/hour in 2014, only slightly higher than the $9.75 that the United States Department of Labor reported for fast food workers in New York that same year.
In New York City, the comparison is even worse for workers in CDPA. Here, workers in CDPA have made $10/hour since 2006. Over that time, the fast food industry has climbed from $7.70/hour to $9.75/hour.
Many of the people keeping seniors and people with disabilities out of institutions and in their homes, at a dramatic cost savings for New Yorkers, qualify for numerous public benefits, including free or subsidized health care in the exchange, housing assistance, food stamps, and in extreme cases, Medicaid.
Bryan O’Malley, Executive Director of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, said of the situation, “We are thrilled for the thousands of fast food workers who appear to be getting a raise; but, since 2006, the State has hidden behind rate ceilings, a financial crisis caused by Wall Street executives, Medicaid global caps, managed care, and more to keep those raises from going to workers in a state-funded program. When will they accept that it is their Medicaid program? When will they accept that if they want to start fixing low wages, maybe they should start with what they have the direct power to control. They do not need a wage board here, Governor Cuomo just has to act.”
Alfred Smith, a worker in New York City, said, “Food, housing and transportation expenses are continuing to go up, but my wages have stayed the same. I love what I do and I feel it is important, I just wish the State did too because at some point, I need to think of my future and look for another job that pays better.”
T.K. Small, a consumer in New York City, stated, “Workers that help to keep people with disabilities healthy and integrated in society deserve a livable wage that is much higher than $10 an hour and what they currently are paid. While fast food workers may deserve a raise, the State must also keep its own house in order and let my workers get a raise too.”
Anthony Caputo, CEO of Concepts of Independence, the largest fiscal intermediary in the state, said, “If our reimbursement had kept up with inflation, Concepts consumers could be paying their workers between $13 and $14 an hour today. Instead, worker’s compensation, unemployment and other costs have gone up as a result of policy changes the state has made while our reimbursement has largely stayed the same. At the end of the day, workers, seniors and people with disabilities suffer.”
Bruce Darling, President and CEO of the Center for Disability Rights, was quoted as saying, “Personal attendants are critical to people with disabilities. Without them, we cannot live in the community and will be forced into nursing facilities. If the State does not take action and invest in attendants, no matter how much they are committed to the people they work for, they will not be able to stay. We already have a shortage in the workforce which prevents many people with disabilities from living in the community because they cannot get the services they need. The State is putting our right to live independently in the community at risk by choosing not to pay attendants fair wages.”
Previous research by CDPAANYS using New York State Department of Health data has found that CDPA saves the state over $50 million a year on average over traditional home care while giving seniors and people with disabilities increased independence and dignity as they control all aspects of the long term services they receive.