Budget season is underway in New York State. Once again, Governor Cuomo’s budget calls for drastic cuts to I/DD services despite the enormous challenges service providers faced prior to and since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated so many families and professionals. The recent passage of the federal American Rescue Plan will inject more than $20 billion into New York State and local governments, though it remains to be seen how this may affect I/DD services.
The budget will not be finalized until April 1 at the earliest, so there is still time to contact your legislators and let them know to stave off cuts to I/DD services in the governor’s budget.
Hundreds of people gathered for this year’s Legislative Breakfast, held virtually for the first time. All five borough-based developmental disabilities councils combined their efforts to put on the annual event that brings together people receiving services and their families, direct care workers, executive staff members, and legislators from across the state.
“It is more important than ever that we restore the cuts in the governor’s executive budget,” said Senator John Mannion from Syracuse. “The providers that are out there are already working on a razor’s edge. We need to provide these communities and these families with the respect and dignity they deserve, and long-term we need to have a better plan.”
The Albany Times-Union stated in February that the most significant budget proposals include a 1 percent across-the-board cut to Medicaid spending and a major change to the way providers are reimbursed for vacancies resulting from hospital stays for people in residences. This is all on top of the fact that I/DD service agencies have not seen any cost of living adjustments, or COLA, in a decade, which has caused the field to lose billions of dollars.
The staffing crisis in special education preschools and nonpublic schools continues as well. With chronically unequal funding facing 853 and 4410 schools, both which serve students with disabilities that public schools cannot support, teachers are underpaid and resources are stretched thin. The average turnover rate in preschools is 25% while in 4410 non-public schools it is 21%.
“Teachers leave our schools not because they want to but because the public schools offer a better life for their families,” said Chris Treiber, Associate Executive Director for Children’s Services at the InterAgency Council. “How are we supposed to provide a quality education to children in our schools when we don’t have the ability to be competitive in terms of hiring and maintaining teachers?”
Help on The Way?
New York State’s economy suffered immensely because of challenges brought on by the pandemic. For months, state and local leaders called on the federal government to provide direct aid to municipal governments to cover losses. Congress did not act on these requests for nearly a year, until the signing of the American Rescue Act on March 11.
Among many other provisions designed to provide stimulus to individuals and businesses, state and local governments are expected to receive as much as $350 billion. Of that, $23.3 billion will go to New York State; $12 billion of that will go to the state and the rest will go to local governments in New York, including the city.
It remains to be seen how this will affect the 2021-22 state budget, and particularly how it may affect I/DD services. Nevertheless, the addition of state and local funding is a critical component of the new stimulus package that disability advocates had been pleading for since the start of the pandemic. We are hopeful that these added monies will lead to a more fair and equitable budget.