As a former fellow elected government official for 44 years and a 50-year advocate/volunteer service provider to people with developmental disabilities, I respectfully request that you consider what might be a quixotic mission.
In your elected position, you represent a county with an extraordinary legacy of human care. It began with the establishment, in our state’s second smallest county, of two of the nation’s largest state-operated facilities for our mentally ill and intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens. That legacy still burns brightly for such folks, who are now served mostly by voluntary, not-for-profit, local community agencies like Camp Venture, ARC, Jawonio and St. Dominic’s Home.
Their passion for providing quality lifetime care – the ingredients of which are personalized respect, dignity, friendship, kindness and joy – is threatened by the state’s delay in recognizing the gravity of the role of our hands-on caregivers, the direct support professionals (DSPs). As much as we appreciate the small wage increases secured at the state level in 2016 and the further, slightly elevated wage increases that will be coming through in 2018, more must be done to keep our sector’s “quest for a livable wage” as a front-burner issue in Albany.
As you may or may not know, DSPs are the “make or break” positions in our sector. Their care, dedication and responsibility are exemplary. While Camp Venture and our sister agencies can only afford to pay a starting salary in the $11-$12 per hour range, the calculated livable wage for our region is $15+ per hour. Given the proliferation of the developmental disabilities client base and the increasing lifespan (thanks to excellent care) of many such clients, it is imperative that you “fight the good fight” in the area of livable wages, as has been done countless times over the years for other causes across the State of New York.
In this regard, Camp Venture and others will continue to work with the larger Coalition of Provider Agencies (COPA) and other stakeholders interested in professionalizing and properly compensating this most deserved class of cherished caregivers. As the Board Chair of Camp Venture, a long-time legislator in Rockland County and a committed supporter and defender of the rights of the vulnerable and the responsibilities of the ever growing “circles of support”, both professional and personal, that surround our beloved IDD clients, I urge you to take a strong leadership role in Albany to correct the longstanding injustice, the blindness to practical and financial reality and the continuing corrosive undermining of this noble profession, and fight for economic justice for these overlooked professionals who tirelessly do “God’s work” each and every day. With your bold support and advocacy, COPA and others can be successful in affirming the value of DSPs and helping them achieve a livable wage in exchange for their tireless day-in and day-out service.
John Allen Murphy
Former Rockland County legislator
President, Camp Venture