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Governor Cuomo vetoes study of caregiver staff shortage

Nonprofit agencies from all over the New York state and workers wrote to the governor urging him to sign the bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation to require the state study the high job vacancy and turnover rates among caregivers for developmentally disabled New Yorkers and what's needed to fix them.

Nonprofits that care for thousands of disabled people, which backed the legislation, said their chronic understaffing has reached a crisis, with nearly 10% unfilled jobs last year, nearly 25% turnover and remaining staff forced to work frequent unscheduled overtime.

In his veto message released Friday, Cuomo said the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities issued a 2014 study of similar matters and is now reviewing it to find the best method to support staff. He also said it's premature to study the impact on caregivers of upcoming minimum wage increases when the bill calls for a report by Nov. 1.

"However, it is undisputed that direct service professionals provide essential services," Cuomo wrote. He directed OPWDD to communicate with bill sponsors, advocates and caregivers to identify "additional steps" the state can take.

Former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, whose disabled adult son lives in a state-supported group home, said nonprofit agencies from all over the state and workers wrote to the governor urging him to sign the bill. OPWDD is responsible for maintaining the health and safety for more than 120,000 disabled New Yorkers, but its recent history includes thousands of cases of abuse and neglect, with few actually investigated, he said.

"The reality is that we have a crisis in care that could be catastrophic," Weisenberg said. "How many more deaths will there be because we're short-staffed, understaffed, overworked, and how's that going to impact the quality of life of the most vulnerable population in the state and their families?"

At a Capitol rally in June, more than 100 caregivers and clients called on legislators and Cuomo to budget pay increases for the mostly Medicaid-funded services, which are half-paid by the federal government.

Nonprofit executives said they said they've had trouble filling jobs starting about five years ago, because of the low pay for challenging work, which has historically paid more than the minimum wage. Upcoming minimum wage increases and growing competition from other employers are expected to make it harder.

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

The legislation, which passed the Assembly 138-3, would have required OPWDD to identify "resources necessary to attract and retain a quality workforce ... in sufficient number to assure the health and safety of individuals with developmental disabilities." It cited financial difficulties starting in 2009 during the national recession, saying "the state has failed to provide appropriate funding to allow not-for-profit providers to pay the fair wages these dedicated and skilled professionals deserve."

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