Hochul frees up $1.5 billion in funding for orgs working with developmentally disabled New Yorkers

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A direct support professional works with a student.
HeartShare Human Services

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday announced that New York State will provide over a billion dollars in funding for organizations that assist people with developmental disabilities, in an effort to attract new recruits and fight staffing shortages at those organizations. 

The governor will earmark $1.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan to fund recruitment, retention and vaccine incentive programs for direct support professionals working with people with developmental disabilities, her office announced on Nov. 18. 

Direct Support Professionals provided essential support to people with developmental disabilities throughout the pandemic when we needed them most, in spite of the risk to themselves and their own families,” Hochul said.  “We owe these workers a debt of gratitude and the American Rescue Plan funding paves the way for bonuses, incentives and one time pay raises to help keep these hardworking, loyal and devoted workers doing what they love most, supporting people with developmental disabilities.”

The added funding aims to increase retention in three ways: by setting up a “heroes fund” for direct support professionals working during the pandemic with additional incentives for those who get vaccinated, by adding the possibility of longevity bonuses for staff who remain in the workforce, and by incentivizing workers to earn further qualifications and credentials to build increase the skilled workforce. 

The funding bump comes after years of brutal budget cuts and austerity measures toward nonprofits that work with the developmentally disabled, which have left most workers doing the difficult work of the industry making little more than minimum wage. 

Low wages make it hard for agencies to fill staffing gaps, leading to dangerous staffing levels and grueling shifts for workers. 

“Our staffing levels are at such critical lows that it’s really at a tipping point now,” said Joe Riley, the director of the Guild for Exceptional Children, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that offers schooling and other services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. 

The pandemic has seen a significant portion of Riley’s staff take medical leave or seek better paying work elsewhere, leaving his staff depleted. A low pay-rate makes it hard to attract new hires, especially given the challenging nature of the job, made more dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“You’re up close and personal, you’re taking care of all the needs of these individuals,” Riley said. “It’s a complex job that requires specialized training.” 

Riley believes the government should permanently increase funding for nonprofits to allow for better pay for their workers. 

“They should be making more than $15 an hour,” Riley said. “Then we’re not competing with fast-food restaurants and other industries for the same staff.”