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Letter: Direct care providers deserve a pay raise, too

Direct care providers deserve a pay raise, too

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unilaterally increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers in New York. The responsibility for the wage increase falls on the businesses that employ the workers, not the state. Wouldn’t the governor’s message of a living wage for all be much more powerful if he led by example, by seeing that employees dependent on the state for their pay are treated with equal fairness?

Nonprofit agencies hire direct care staff to provide one-on-one support to people who have developmental disabilities and need assistance. Ninety percent of the pay for direct care providers comes from the state budget. Even though our legislators back it, there is no increase in pay being allotted in this year’s budget. Based on current state funding, direct care staff receive $9.50 to $11.50 an hour. Up until now, despite the lack of sufficient financial support, nonprofit agencies have managed to attract and hire dedicated staff.

The increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers changes the playing field. Without a substantial amount of money being added to the state budget for direct care providers’ pay, the nonprofit agencies could very well lose their staff. Direct care providers, to whom we entrust the well-being of our family members, will have to choose between the work they enjoy or a job that will provide a significantly better wage.

Many of us, at one time or other, may find ourselves in a position where we are dependent on a direct care person for assistance. Wouldn’t we greatly prefer someone who felt called to the work and had plenty of experience to another individual who took it only because he couldn’t find anything else and will leave at the first opportunity?

The governor needs to do the right thing and, as the saying goes, put his money where his mouth is.

Mary Jo Butler