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Another Voice: Wage Board should increase pay scale for human service workers

By Steven Kroll

The members of the governor’s Fast Food Wage Board have been deliberating a minimum wage increase for fast food workers. Fast food workers hope that the Wage Board’s recommendations result in a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

The principle embraced by the governor is one that NYSARC strongly endorses. People who work hard to earn a living should be paid a wage that is sufficient for them to provide for their families.

Fast food workers are only one example of hardworking people who work full-time hours and still do not make enough to make ends meet. This discussion should not be limited to the food service industry.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul acknowledged this by indicating that “it starts here with this particular industry and I am sure we’ll look at others as well.” We encourage the state to consider direct support professionals (DSPs) who support people with developmental disabilities.

DSPs have direct responsibility for the care of others, but government payments to providers don’t support a sufficient wage. DSPs require a significant amount of expertise and training to help people with developmental disabilities with activities of daily living, manage their health care, stay safe and get out into the community.

The same can be said for other human services workers. We encourage the state to invest in the DSPs who provide care for people with special needs to ensure that they earn at least a higher minimum wage. DSPs are often paid with government funds, while fast food workers are paid by large corporations that can raise the price of their products to pay higher wages.

Increasing the pay for DSPs would be a cost to New York State. But if hardworking food service workers deserve special attention – and they do – then hardworking DSPs deserve at least the same salary.

Human services workers need a minimum wage increase funded in the state budget commensurate with their responsibilities for ensuring that those among us who face the greatest lifelong challenges can live safe, healthy and full lives as citizens of their communities. The well-being of people with disabilities is, after all, a responsibility of government that is explicitly articulated in New York State’s Constitution.

Increasing the minimum wage for human services workers should be on the state’s agenda and occur simultaneously with any other targeted increase.

Steven Kroll is executive director of NYSARC.