Additional advocacy for NY State budget

Independent Perspective 1744 with Todd Vaarwerk on additional advocacy for the NYS Budget.

Host:  Welcome to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL). Our guest today is Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer of WNYIL and I'm your host Ernie Churchwell. Welcome to the program Todd.

Guest:  Always good to be here.

Host:  It's our pleasure. You are a man who has his fingers on every aspect of public policy, what's going on in Albany, Washington and other points? And as many people know, from what we've said in the past, April 1 was the deadline for a new NY State budget for the coming year. So, are we celebrating all the victories that we got once the budget was passed?

Guest:  No, we're not because the budget is not passed yet. Frequent listeners of the program would know that somewhere around this time of year, I or another member of my public policy staff might come on and talk about our victories in the state budget. Can't do that because the state budget is not passed yet. So, this is another reminder for the listeners out there that care about disability issues that they still have a chance to impress upon their legislators the importance of disability issues when it comes to the budget.

And I wanted to take a minute to highlight three issues primarily that we're still hoping to advocate on as they make final negotiations for the budget. The first is what we call the staffing crisis. This takes two points. One is supporting fair pay for home cares drive, to get home care workers to make 150% of the area minimum wage and the direct service providers making sure that they get a livable wage based on percentage increases and I think this year they asking for 8%. With the staffing crisis, everybody's talking about staffing crisis. We're talking about a hiring crisis. Everybody's having a problem hiring the staff they need, but that includes people with disabilities who's the role the staff is critical to keeping them independent in the community. And one of the big draws on that is pay. So that's one of the reasons why we continue to advocate for that activity.

The second thing is a program called Access to Home. Anybody who lives in Buffalo knows how old our housing stock is. And Access to Home is a program that should be funded a level to help us get ramps and building mods on the buildings so that people can age in place and stay safely in their community. And we're advocating for this year to have an increase in the access to home budget. It's been funded at $1 million forever, and that's $1 million statewide, which isn't a lot of money when you break it down to individual localities. So, we really want to work on getting that program a more appropriate level of money.

And the last thing of course, is supporting your local Independent Living centers. Independent Living is producing a show like this one, but also serves everybody in the in the community with a disability. And the problem is we have the same problem that the other non for profits with disabilities have. There's not enough money in the operating budgets to cover sudden increases of operation. This year we’re asking so that we're not coming every year and saying we need a million dollars. We need a million and a half dollars. We're doing something we haven't done in a while. We're asking that we be placed on the permanent human services COLA list, so that every year when they're calculating the COLA that the human service agencies get independent living will see some of that.

Host:  And just to remind people COLA stands for cost of living allowance. And to make a point when they first enacted the housing support wasn't its original allocation 10 million instead of 1 million?

Guest:  That is absolutely correct. When they first created the Access to Home program, they funded it at $10 million. And then within three years, it was down to 1 million.

Host:  And for some reason people are having trouble getting folks to lift them out of their wheelchairs and clean their bed pans when they can make more flipping burgers.

Guest:  Correct. Not so much the flipping burgers thing anymore, but entry level retail jobs are still paying more than aide service is currently paying.

Host:  We're running low on time, but I'm sure people will have questions, how can they reach you?

Guest:  They can absolutely call my office 836-0822 extension 101 or email me at Or stay tuned to our site on Facebook because anything current that you could act on right now will probably go there first.

Host:  Thanks so much for being with us.

Guest:  Always a pleasure.

Host:  You've been listening to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of WNYIL. Our guest today was Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer of WNYIL and I've been your host Ernie Churchwell.