Liberty ARC and Schenectady ARC rally against budget

Liberty ARC individuals rally for wages for Direct Support Professionals on Monday at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam. From the left is Jean Hallett, Mallory Felton, Jessica Hamm, and Lenny Smith. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

AMSTERDAM — Liberty ARC and Schenectady ARC individuals advocated for state funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo for Direct Support Professionals at the #bFair2DirectCare rally on Monday.

The rally, which was hosted by Liberty ARC at the Riverfront Center, featured several speakers and supporters including the Liberty ARC CEO, family members and DSPs.

“The governor released his budget on Jan. 17 and that budget contains no funding for direct care,” said Liberty ARC CEO Jennifer Saunders. “So, we have to send a message to the governor letting him know that budget will not be accepted, that we need each of our representatives to vote in favor of funding for direct care.”

Saunders said statewide there is an average turnover of direct care workers of 26 percent and providers throughout the state are reporting turnover rates of 40 percent.

“With that kind of turnover, you’re not going to have stability, you’re not going to have well-trained staff,” Saunders said.

Speakers at the #bFair2DirectCare Rally for better wages for Direct Support Profesionals are shown on Monday at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam. From the left is Liberty ARC DSP Brenda Empie, Liberty ARC family member Mary Podvesa, Liberty ARC DSP Sharon Oleskak, Liberty ARC DSP Stacy Parrino and Liberty ARC CEO Jennifer Saunders. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

She said also statewide, the vacancies of direct care workers averages 14.3 percent, which cause many DSPs to have to work additional hours to ensure individuals have the support they need.

“That is not acceptable. The governor needs to give us the funding that we need in order to be able to pay living wages to fill our vacancies and reduce our turnovers,” Saunders said. “The budget he’s putting forward needs to be rejected until it contains that funding.”

Liberty ARC DSP Brenda Empie, who has had many years in the field, spoke firsthand the impact that the funding has.

Empie said DSPs have families, children, husbands who they take care of, but they can’t do it on the wages they are being paid.

“These are everyday people coming to work and being trained to take care of your loved ones, to take care of your family members, to take care of your friends, and to the governor, this could be you tomorrow should there be an accident,” Empie said. “We support people with traumatic brain injuries and they were just like you and I yesterday.”

People rally for better wages for Direct Support Professionals at the #bFair2DirectCare rally at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam on Monday. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

Sharon Oleskak, who has worked with Liberty for 25 years and who has also worked as a DSP, said she loves her job, but unfortunately works overtime to “make ends meet.”

“I’m tired,” Oleskak said. “I’m getting older and I’m tired, but the governor doesn’t want to give us the funding for good staff and to keep our staff that is good. We are all getting tired of working overtime and filling in the positions that are open in our agency.”

A parent of an individual supported by Liberty, Mary Podvesa, spoke on behalf of the workers who have supported her daughter, Laura Podvesa.

“I really believe it is time to make a change and change the rate because we can’t keep doing this,” Podvesa said. “My daughter is completely affected every time a new staff arrives on her scene, which is at least every few months. She has anxiety, she feels the effect of every single new employee that’s hired.”

Stacy Parrino, a DSP who has been with Liberty for eight years spoke on the impact the lack of funding has had on her and what it means to her.

“We do need support. We need support from the governor, we need support from any organization willing to help,” Parrino said. “People are exhausted. People are truly working double time, overtime, triple time, whatever they can do and they’re not making anything for pay.”

This was the second rally within the past two years that Liberty ARC has hosted and they participate in many other rallies throughout the capital district to help advocate for DSPs.

“For me it’s advocating on behalf of my staff,” Saunders said.

She said there are over 700 employees throughout Montgomery County and without funding from the governor they can’t give living wages to those employees.

“For me it’s being a voice for the direct support professionals,” Empie said.

Saunders said the issue has become more critical.

“So we’re having to speak out and to have more of these rallies to try to get the message through,” Saunders said.

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