With a spring in their step and chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil in hand, groups from our Day Community Opportunities Program (DCOP) traveled around the New York State Capitol and Legislative Office Building on March 12, 2024.

They had an important St. Patrick’s Day-themed message to send to our lawmakers: “We need more than luck… we need your support!”

The FY 2025 State Budget is due in just a matter of weeks and we are calling for Governor Kathy Hochul and our representatives in the Senate and Assembly to prioritize an unrestricted 3.2% Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) and the Direct Support Wage Enhancement in the final version of that spending plan.  This funding is necessary for all agencies that support individuals with disabilities as we fight to keep up with inflationary operating expenses across the board and seek to pay our direct support professionals (DSPs) a living wage, so that staffing challenges can be alleviated and compensation better reflects the skilled care that they provide. Governor Kathy Hochul’s version of the budget included only a 1.5% COLA. The newly-released One House budgets made improvements, but do not go far enough to sustain our service sector. The Senate and Assembly each included the 3.2% COLA in their spending plans, however, they would limit how that money can be spent, tying our hands when it comes to added expenses that go far beyond DSP compensation.

“Caring for people with disabilities is a complex undertaking, with DSPs being one of many essential components,” reads a statement from New York Disability Advocates, “Inflation has hit every part of our organizations – transportation, clerical, maintenance, quality assurance, and other operating costs have skyrocketed at a pace that has exceeded the state’s investment in the system. A restricted COLA ignores this reality and will ultimately be harmful to nonprofit providers, their staff, and – most importantly – the people with disabilities that we support.”

We are grateful that the Senate chose to include the Direct Support Wage Enhancement in its One House budget, however the Assembly did not do the same. This enhancement would allow our organization and others like it to increase pay for direct support staff permanently, independent of the COLA. Negotiations and the need for advocacy are far from finished!

The DCOP groups went from office to office, handing each lawmaker or their staff member a coin and a postcard with information printed on it. When offices were empty, the postcards were left in mailboxes by the door. Living Resources CEO Elizabeth Martin was on hand, joining several of the groups on their routes. Some of the individuals were fortunate enough to meet, speak, and pose for a photo with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senator Jessica Ramos!

With each conversation, the DCOP participants grew more confident speaking about why their program is so important to them and why lawmakers should show their support. We are thankful that they had the confidence and the passion to make their voices heard!