Our state should invest in direct care workers

The state budget must also invest in New York’s Direct Care Workers.

As a father of a son with autism, I know how important the staff who work with my son are to his success and well-being.

For many people with developmental disabilities, these dedicated and caring direct care workers make it possible for them to live active lives engaged in their own communities.

My son Michael is one of more than 128,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities who often cannot speak for themselves. They are often dependent on their families and direct care workers for their health and safety, including bathing, feeding, taking medication, and basic skills like tying their shoes and brushing their teeth.

Direct care workers have training requirements and oversight that make their jobs so much more than minimum wage positions. Yet, direct care workers have not been made a priority in the upcoming state budget.

From my history, both as a parent and a legislator, and my perspective in the community, I ask that New York State support the thousands of our community members performing these tasks day in and day out to improve our society.

Our direct care workforce is facing a staff shortage that has now become a crisis. I have repeatedly called for the necessary funding in this year’s state budget and again call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make it a priority.

The nonprofit agencies that provide the supports and services for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families haven’t received an increase in state funding to keep up with annual inflation since the recession of 2008. Many people with developmental disabilities and their families are already feeling the impact. Statewide, 10 percent of these positions are currently vacant and the turnover rate is now above 20 percent.

Imagine if you came to depend on someone to provide the support you need to engage in the basic tasks of everyday living and they were no longer there.

In the governor’s $163 billion state budget proposal, this request is small, but it means so much for these dedicated workers and their families. And most importantly, it means that for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities and their families, they will be able to continue to count on the essential supports and services that New York has and must continue to provide.

As a father; as a representative for my local community; as a proud New Yorker, I ask that we make this commitment to define who we are as a community.

The direct support workers and the more than 100,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities deserve no less.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is the representative for the 111th Assembly District.