AHRC New York City has fought for the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families for over 70 years.

The fight continues and You Can Help.

The resources below will help you to understand today’s policy initiatives, and provide resources you can use to help make a better world for people with disabilities and their families. Included below are our advocacy initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels.

2020-2021 AHRC New York City Advocacy Priorities

The Issue:

  • NYS relies on the voluntary sector to provide vital services to people with I/DD and their families but has failed to recognize the need to sustain these providers  with even minimal increases in funding to cover the rising cost of doing business
  • Many providers are becoming financially distressed, jeopardizing the quality of services they provide and in turn the wellbeing of a vulnerable population.
  • Although BFair2DirectCare is important and deserving of support, funds for this initiative do not cover the cost increases providers face for all other aspects of their service delivery.

Issue Overview

The intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) field began as a partnership between government, families and the newly created non-profit provider sector – all wanting to do what was right after the signing of the Willowbrook Consent Decree in 1975.   The sector has grown over the years, working hand in hand with government, to support people with I/DD who would otherwise be left without any supports. While AHRC NYC and other similar mission-driven organizations made commitments to serve the most vulnerable of New York State’s population, a commitment that was once shared by the state, the rising costs of doing business are making the viability of necessary programs difficult to maintain. Since the I/DD field is almost exclusively reliant and supported by government funding, increases in fixed costs that are matched with increased government funding make sustainability difficult.

There are approximately 140,000 individuals in New York State who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and are supported by NYS OPWDD. Voluntary provider organizations provide services and supports to these individuals, and offer a variety of programs tailored to meet the wide range of needs and abilities of those with I/DD in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Today, AHRC New York City alone provides services to over 15,000 individuals with I/DD every year and has a staff of 5,000, spread across 113 facilities, in all five boroughs.

Many agencies have been forced to close, limit the number of program offerings, or severely reduce the number of individuals they can support. The individuals being supported require care and specialized attention that can only be provided by organizations such as AHRC NYC, with specialized expertise, knowledge and experience.

In 2006, New York State made a cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase permanent by law, but this has been deferred by the Executive since 2010. Prior to the deferral, Medicaid funded OPWDD supports and services received yearly increases to cover the rising costs of providing services, called “Medicaid Trends” similar to a COLA for non-Medicaid expenses. In 2010, a 2.08% COLA/Medicaid trend was given to both state and nonprofit operated programs. Since then, with the exception of a 0.2% increase given in 2017, nonprofit OPWDD providers have been denied any COLA to support agency operations.  Recent OPWDD budgets have included zero dollars to account for inflation, pay for the rising costs of workers’ compensation, liability insurance, employee health care costs, rising rents, and other fixed costs involved in providing services. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been saved by NYS as a result of these COLA deferrals.

An absence of these trends has forced many providers to operate in the red, have very limited cash-on-hand, and in some instances, forced them to close their operations. The poor fiscal health combined with the pressure for providers to start their transition to managed care has placed organizations in a perilous and increasingly unstable position. It has placed the state’s most vulnerable citizens in peril of not receiving the services to which they are entitled, deserve and need. Without these services, they will languish at home or become wards of the state.

AHRC NYC Position:

Include the 3% Human Services Sustainability Trend for the next 5 fiscal years.

The Issue

  • 4410 preschools and 853 (elementary and middle-high) schools are privately operated but funded, approved and contracted by the New York State Education Department and City Department of Education (DOE) to fulfill the DOE’s legal responsibility to provide a free and appropriate education to the students that cannot be served by the DOE because of the complex needs they present.
  • Yet tuition rates are much lower than those in DOE operated programs.
  • And, teacher salaries are on the average $20,000 less per year than their counterparts in the DOE although the same teacher certifications are required.

Issue Overview

AHRC New York City currently operates six schools within the five boroughs, educating a total of 900 students in four (4410) preschools, one (853) Elementary school and an (853) Middle/High school. The schools were developed to provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE) to students for whom the New York City Department of Education does not have appropriate placements. The Elementary and Middle/High schools are privately operated by AHRC NYC but funded, approved and contracted by the New York State Education Department and City Department of Education (DOE). These schools fulfill the government’s legal responsibility to those school-age individuals who the DOE cannot support and all students are referred by the DOE’s Committee on Special Education.  The AHRC NYC preschools operate under the regulations and approval of the Department of Health and Mental Health and referrals are made and approved by the DOE’s Committees on Preschool Special Education.

Funding for 4410 and 853 special education programs has been at low levels, creating deficits for providers and causing them to close needed programs across New York City. The state system reimburses the 4410 and 853 programs at 94 percent of allowable costs, far less than the actual cost. Additionally, teachers and related service professionals are difficult to hire and retain because the DOE pays salaries at a higher rate than we are able. Teacher salaries in 4410 or 853 schools for a twelve-month year are significantly lower than those teachers in public schools, by an average of $20,000 for a ten-month year. This is all despite the fact that Teacher Certifications required by the City and State are the same for the public schools and the 4410 and 853 schools.

In the last five years alone, AHRC NYC and other service providers in New York State have lost upwards of $50 million by providing education services. As an organization, AHRC NYC began providing educational services to children with developmental disabilities close to 70 years ago when almost no special classes existed in the DOE – then called Board of Ed. The commitment has continued. If this fiscal trend continues, it will be impossible to continue fulfilling this commitment.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Inter-Agency Council (IAC) of provider organization schools in New York City, 61% of 853 schools reported having certified teacher vacancies and 77% of the schools reported having certified teacher assistant vacant positions. Within the 4410 preschools, 68% have reported having certified teacher vacancies, and 73% report certified teacher assistant vacancies. The vacancy rate for the 4410 preschools has increased between 2016 and 2018, from 17% to 28%, with an overall turnover rate of 21%. The vacancy rate for 853 schools increased from 16% in 2016 to 27% in 2018, with an overall turnover rate of 25%.

The 4410 preschools and 853 school-age programs need adequate growth factors and tuition rate increases along with other fiscal supports to bring reimbursement more closely in line with the cost of operations. Further complicating the situation is the recent increase to teacher salaries in Universal Pre-K programs in New York City, passed by the City Council and Mayor. Not including the 4410 preschools in the salary negotiations demonstrates how the State and City believe that these programs are not an integral part of the educational system, despite educating the neediest and most complicated of students that the DOE cannot educate.

AHRC NYC Position:

  • Provide a 4% tuition increase for special education schools in 2018-19 school year
  • Include statutory index for annual tuition increases for 4410 preschools and 853 special education schools, and establish a reserve fund to maintain fiscal viability
  • Provide $18 million for special education schools to narrow the teacher compensation gap, and ensure salary parity with DOE teachers and clinicians

The Issue

  • NYS is failing in its obligation to provide sufficient residential opportunities in the community for people with I/DD
  • Many are on the waiting lists that are not available to the public or transparent to policymakers
  • A large percentage of those waiting are at home with elderly parents/caregivers and may soon be in crisis because of the death or disability of the parents/caregivers.
  • Overregulation hampers the options available to support people with I/DD