- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Nonprofits that care for thousands of developmentally disabled New Yorkers said Wednesday that their chronic understaffing is reaching a crisis, with nearly 10 percent job vacancies last year.

They said they can’t fill the jobs because of the low pay for challenging work, and upcoming minimum wage increases, growing competition from other employers and new federal overtime rules will make it harder.

A survey of 136 caretaker organizations also showed 23 percent staff turnover last year, another factor forcing their other employees to work 6.4 million hours of overtime, said Michael Seereiter, president of the New York State Rehabilitation Association. That’s representative of the 400 organizations altogether that provide care for most of the 130,000 disabled individuals getting state services.

At a rally Wednesday in the state Capitol, more than 100 caregivers and clients called on the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to budget pay increases for the mostly Medicaid-funded services that are half-paid by the federal government.

“The government has an obligation and responsibility to take care of our people,” said former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a longtime advocate whose 58-year-old son Ricky lives at a state-supported residence on Long Island. Professional caregivers become surrogate parents, and the high turnover rate makes it hard on the people they care for, he said.

Their pay, historically higher than the minimum wage, has risen only 4 percent over the past eight years, from legislation Weisenberg pushed through, Seereiter said. Many workers have been forced to moonlight or quit for other jobs that pay more, he said.

Roland LaScala, an assistant director at the NYSARC chapter in the greater Albany area, said they have 64 vacancies among 240 positions that they can’t fill. Starting pay is $10.80 an hour, and many of the people who do apply have problems clearing background checks, he said.

The wage, recruitment and turnover problems began about five years ago but in the last couple of years it has become a crisis, LaScala said.

“The government has an obligation to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” said Sen. Robert Ortt, a Republican from Lockport. He and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, a Hudson Valley Democrat, have introduced legislation to require a state study of the vacancy and turnover rates and what’s needed to fix them.

New York’s minimum wage, now $9 an hour, is scheduled to rise at the end of this year to $11 in New York City, $10 on Long Island and Westchester County and $9.70 in the rest of the state.

The state budget provides $30 million of additional annual funding for the nonprofit providers, according to the Budget Division.

“The minimum wage increase that Gov. Cuomo championed will benefit low-wage workers in all sectors and all industries including this one,” budget spokesman Morris Peters said.

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