Rally flips questions to Albany as budget deadline nears

By Kathy Kahn

Assemblyman James Skoufis (D) addresses non-profit workers at Camp Venture rally
Assemblyman James Skoufis (D) addresses non-profit workers at Camp Venture rally

Caregivers and the people who depend on them for getting through daily life are wondering if those essential services are as important to Albany as the wages of its own employees and those of fast-food workers.

Non-profits and elected officials on March 18 rallied at Camp Venture in Stony Point to drive home the disparity of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed wage increases for state employees and fast-food workers.

Rockland ARC’s and Jawanio’s  DSPs (direct support professionals), along with the many who rely on them for services, gathered en masse on the grounds of Camp Venture to demand parity for those who care for the physically/mentally disabled. “Is it a ‘radical’ idea to believe government needs to recognize service providers?” asked Ken Zebrowski, along with his peer in the Assembly, James Skoufis, joined the ranks of speakers asking Cuomo to consider the needs of service providers and the people they care for.

Terry Repola, whose adult child lives in the Bobby Lewis Home, told the crowd of over 200, “My daughter needs 24/7 care—can’t Albany find the money in the budget to help take are of our ‘angels?’, referring to the staff at the Jawanio-run group home in Chestnut Ridge. It is among group homes around the county that provide round-the-clock care for residents.

Rockland ARC’s CEO Carmine Marchionda added his thoughts to the many lobbying Albany to recognize the contributions direct support professionals provide the disabled in the county and state. “Many of our caregivers continue their educations to provide support to our clients…without the proper wages, we will be in crisis. Are you listening, Gov. Cuomo?”

Hundreds cheered for speakers who came out to support asking Albany for wage parity. Kerry Metz, who receives support from Rockland ARC, told the audience it was “difficult to deal with changing caregivers. They deserve a decent living wage. Isn’t what they deliver to the community as important as a fast-food worker’s contribution?”

“We do a lot of things cooperatively with Camp Venture,” said Dr. David Jacobsen, executive director of Rockland’s Independent Living. “We are certainly advocating for living wage issues for Pas (patient advocates) and DSPs.”

While Gov. Cuomo touts $15 minimum wage—which would not reach that maximum for 3-4 years– many businesses and non-profits have joined the coalition to put the brakes on his proposal. The Minimum Wage Realty Check (www.minimumwagerealitycheck.com) is growing by leaps and bounds as the two-term governor tours the state in his mini-bus to promote a move that many say will hurt businesses and non-profits alike.

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