AHRC New York City families, self-advocates, and Team Members made integral contributions to this year’s Five Borough Legislative Breakfast, held virtually on Friday, March 4th. The five developmental disability councils based in New York City combined their efforts again to make for a powerful morning of advocacy.

A Forward-Looking Budget

Much of the conversation focused on the upcoming 2022-23 New York State budget, which is expected to be significantly more favorable for I/DD service providers and their staff members than budgets in past years.

This budget is a great start but that’s what it is, a start. We must find ways to make these changes sustainable,” said Kathy Kelly, Associate Vice President, Family and Clinical Services and Chair of the Manhattan Developmental Disabilities Council.

In addition to calling for sustained support in future budgets, Kathy Kelly commended Governor Hochul for her plans to expand the state’s capacity to provide more employment resources for neurodiverse people.

[The budget] emphasizes the vision for New York State to become a leader in employing people with disabilities, a vision we share and offer our expertise,” Kathy said.

Kerry Neifeld, the newly confirmed Commissioner of OPWDD, detailed several key budget proposals from Governor Kathy Hochul that will provide funding that the I/DD field has not seen in more than a decade. These included:

  • An increase in OPWDD’s budget by close to $500 million, a 12% increase;
  • A 5.4% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for providers, the first significant COLA in nearly 15 years;
  • recruitment and retention bonuses for many types of staffing positions supporting people with I/DD;
  • $23 million to address housing needs, including $13 million for ISS housing subsidies
  • An influx of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan

Assemblymembers and State Senators appearing at the breakfast or sending well-wishes signaled their willingness to back these measures and more. Tom Abinanti, Stacey Pfeffer Amato, Michael Benedetto, Cordell Cleare, Michael Cusick, Jeffery Dinowitz, Harvey Epstein, Charles Fall, Mathylde Frontus, Brad Hoylman, John Manion, Gustavo Rivera, Helene Weinstein, and David Weprin were among the legislators expressing support.

Benefits of Individualized Supports

Representing the Brooklyn DD Council, Henry Houghton and Janice Bartley gave personal accounts of their experiences with Individualized Supports and independent living on their own terms.

I’ve lived in my apartment for about 8-9 years. I didn’t have a lot of independence before that,” Henry said. “I love doing the dishwashing and washing my clothes all the time.”

Janice concurred, saying “I wanted my independence, and I knew my parents wouldn’t be around forever. I had total independence for the first time in my life and I loved it. I could even walk around the house naked if I wanted to.”

Jennifer Teich described the need for improvement in the way individualized supports are offered and delivered.

Jennifer Teich

Henry, Janice, and Jennifer Teich, Associate Vice President, Individualized Supports, all supported the plans for an increase in the ISS housing subsidy, allowing people with disabilities more choice in where they want to live. Additionally, Jennifer said the excessive bureaucracy around gaining support services should be streamlined.

Simplifying the process of self-direction would attract people put off by the amount of work required to maintain services,” Jennifer said.

Supporting DSPs

There was a widespread commendation of the work Direct Support Professionals continue to do across the state. While the budget, Governor Hochul, and legislators have all said they support higher wages for DSPs, service providers and DSPs are urging officials to support permanent increases in salaries.

Michael Iteme told legislators about the challenges he faces due to the salary he receives as a DSP.

Michael Iteme

I love what I do. I love working with the men and women and residences, even though I must work two full-time jobs to support my family,” Michael Iteme, a Direct Support Professional at AHRC NYC’s Laguna Lane residence on Staten Island. “We work no matter the weather, through sickness, and through the pandemic. We need to support the staff who work with people who need a familiar face.”

Michael Weinberg, Vice President, Residential Services, echoed Michael Iteme’s words and added that New York State must address the diverse needs of families. “When I first started, New York State was an international beacon for services. I’d never imagined we’d have to remind people that one size does not fit all in 2022. After a decade of cuts, we’re still in a crisis and we must reverse the trend now. After all, it is only fair, and it is only right.”