New York has come a long way in how it cares for its disabled and mentally ill residents and continues to set new national standards in how these people are cared for.
However, these programs are at risk of being cut if something is not done soon to increase funding.
“We can no longer wait. At some point they have to pay attention to us,” Toni Lasicki, Director for Association for Community Living, said.
Lasicki says direct care workers still barely make minimum wage, even as some employees at fast food restaurants are earning $15 per hour. The legislature has pledged to raise direct care worker’s wages over the next six years, but Lasicki told the Assembly committee six years is too long.
“These jobs require staff to understand mental illness, supervise medications, do crisis counseling; these are anything but minimum wage jobs.”
It’s not just direct care workers taking a hit. Housing programs for those with disabilities and mental illnesses are falling short of making ends meet across the state.
“We’re talking about serious underfunding for a lot of years.”
Many organizations that provide care might have to close their doors this next year or double up residents to a room, which can be problematic for those struggling with mental illnesses.
“I can’t tell you how many more phone calls I’ve gotten over the past three years from parents who have said my kid used to live here and it was a home and they were happy. Since you brought this new individual in my son or daughter is getting hit, they’re getting bit, they’re getting slapped,” Mark Van Voorst, Executive Director of the ARC New York, said.
With the state facing a major budget deficit, a bigger increase in funding for these programs could be difficult.
“It may be one of the toughest budgets we have ever had to do here at the State Assembly since I’ve been here but we have to put people first. We can not leave people behind,” Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (D-Montgomery County) said.