Successes from Stories and Working Together:
New York State’s #bFair2DirectCare Campaign
In March 2017, the #bFair2DirectCare campaign pressed for inclusion of a living wage for DSPs in the New York State annual budget, bringing the message to the streets through a billboard and rally in New York City’s Times Square. Photos courtesy of #bFair2DirectCare.
In 2014, Governor Cuomo announced his plan to increase minimum wage in New York State. The New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation (the NY Alliance) and other advocates for providers that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) knew that this would impact Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and our field as well. We were supportive of the increase. However, we worried that the state would not increase rates to pay for the minimum wage increases for DSPs. In a process that took two years, the NYS legislature adopted a multi-year, phased-in minimum wage of $15 per hour.
Today, a national and state DSP workforce shortage is clear. It is expected to continue and worsen. Sadly, all human services agencies are experiencing worker shortages. Some are in a crisis as they struggle to provide individualized, quality supports in the community. As a result, wages have become the highest priority in recruiting and retaining skilled workers. A strong and collaborative approach would be needed to get an investment of resources for our workforce. At the same time, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour across industries added pressure to the agencies providing supports.
Nine associations and organizations in New York worked together in a campaign called #bFair2DirectCare. Their goal was to ensure that public funds would support the minimum wage increase in the rates paid to provider agencies. The first stage of the campaign was successful. The state funded the rate increases impacted by the minimum wage increase.
The #bFair2DirectCare Campaign Successful Ingredients:
- Awesome and authentic stories by the people that are most important to making the case: DSPs, people with disabilities, family members, supervisors, and agency executives
- Well positioned public relations consultants who used traditional tactics as well as social media
- Data were crucial to making the case. They were backed by a well-respected and independent academic institution —Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Immediately after the minimum wage increase was approved, the #bFair2DirectCare coalition started the next stage of the campaign. The aim of the next stage was getting to a living wage. The workforce crisis was worsening. In June 2016, the coalition launched the next stage. They chose the theme, #300DaysToBetterPay. This aimed to influence the Governor’s Proposed 2017-18 Executive Budget. This budget was expected to be released in mid-January 2017.
This phase of the campaign was driven by the fact that DSP positions are not minimum wage positions. They require specialized skills, knowledge and attitudes. This was paired with the fact that for years the state had not provided adequate wage increases. Wage increases had not kept pace with inflation, cost of living, and an improved economy. Using the MIT Living Wage calculator (http://livingwage.mit.edu/ ), the #bFair2DirectCare coalition developed a plan to get to a living wage. A path over six years was set. They chose to advocate for smaller amounts of funding each year ($45 million/year) rather than one large sum of money ($270 million in one year). Creating a living wage proposal required regular surveying of agencies within the provider associations. Demographic, wage, turnover, vacancy and overtime data was gathered by NY regions. The study was updated regularly. The data showed a steady increase in vacancy and turnover rates. This helped support what providers were feeling: the shortage was getting worse. It needed to be addressed.
The first phase of the #bFair2DirectCare living wage campaign focused on the Executive Branch of government. The goal was to get $45 million into the Governor’s proposed budget for the first step toward a living wage. When it was not in the proposed budget, the campaign shifted tactics. They continued to work with the State Legislature. They worked in particular to gain support of members of the State Assembly and State Senate. Letters from DSPs, people receiving supports, parents, and other family members to the Governor, legislators, and to the editors of major news outlets were key to this phase of the campaign. Letters and stories were very important in supporting the need for funds in the final State Budget for the #bFair2DirectCare request. The Governor’s Office needed to hear from all communities in all parts of the state. Rallies, press conferences, a billboard in NYC’s Times Square, and radio and TV interviews, received significant media attention. Support grew.
Raising awareness was high on the list for the #bFair2DirectCare campaign. Many DSPs were active in telling their stories of poor wages, vast amounts of overtime required and the complexity of their jobs. Parents, people with disabilities and agency executives told the story from different angles. The partnership of a DSP and the person they supported was a very powerful combination.
Many DSPs were active in telling their stories of poor wages, vast amounts of overtime required and the complexity of their jobs. . . The partnership of a DSP and the person they supported was a very powerful combination.
Results. At the last press conference/rally before the end of the budget year the Governor announced $55 million in the budget! The budget bill passed with enormous legislative support!
Next steps. The #bFair2DirectCare campaign is a strong coalition of nine organizations. The coalition continues. There are four more years to go until a living wage will be reached. Meanwhile, sadly, the workforce crisis continues.
The NY Alliance includes a network of 200 agency providers of services to individuals with IDD in NYS. We are advocates of the DSP. We have supported many ways to increase the visibility and professionalism of the workforce. Some ways are:
- Valuing and respecting workers through regional DSP conferences and award ceremonies,
- Involving DSPs in decision making on the job,
- Creating a NYS Chapter of the Alliance for DSPs,
- Developing career ladders and credentialing programs, and
- Increasing wages and benefits.