“What about us?” People with disabilities and workers rally to ask why they don’t get $15/hr

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“What about us?” People with disabilities and workers rally to ask why they don’t get $15/hr

As Governor Cuomo’s wage board convened in New York City to determine whether or not to raise the wage to $15/hour for fast food workers, people with disabilities, seniors and their home care workers gathered outside to ask “What about us?” and request Governor Cuomo to #fundfreedom by raising the wage for workers in the state’s Medicaid funded home care programs and consumer directed personal assistance program (CDPAP).

The consumers and workers were part of the state’s consumer directed personal assistance program, a Medicaid-only community-based long term care program that serves approximately 15,000 individuals and employs 25,000 workers, called personal assistants. In CDPAP, the consumers hire, train, supervise and, if necessary, fire their own workers. They work with an organization called a Fiscal Intermediary to process payroll, pay taxes, and take care of other administrative details.

Because of state Medicaid rates, wages for CDPAP have been frozen at $10 since 2006, and seniors and people with disabilities rely on their workers to stay in the community and live independent lives. This is despite the fact that by the State’s own admission, the program saves over $50 million per year for taxpayers. Advocates gathered at the rally argue this is going to create a crisis in home care when fast food wages go up, as the workforce for this industry will be economically forced to look at higher paying jobs in the fast food sector.

Seniors and people with disability rely on this program to remain independent and in the community. Their workers perform tasks that are critical to their ongoing independence, such as lifting them from bed into their wheelchair and helping them go to the bathroom. Because the consumer is in charge of the worker, they also can perform many things the State would typically have to pay a nurse to do, such as give medication or help with ventilators and wound care.

The program has proven very effective since its creation by four people in New York City in 1980; however, because of the low reimbursement, many consumers now report having difficulty finding quality , reliable people to hire. When they do hire them, it is often difficult to retain them.

T.K. Small, who lives in Brooklyn and uses aides to live and work in the community, said, “The wage is terrible. I just hired someone and it took me six months. Finding staff who could do the job, who I could trust, and who would work for $10/hour was incredibly hard. Without assistance, without an increase to stay competitive with the fast food industry, I don’t know how programs like this will continue.”

Participants at the rally were asking Governor Cuomo to use his power as Governor to tell the Department of Health to change Medicaid rates to the consumer directed personal assistance program to allow for higher rates, something that has been a top budget priority for program advocates for years now.

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 the program, summed up the reality of the thousands of workers across the city and throughout the state.  “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.”

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