Lawmakers seek to double governor’s proposed wage hike for human services providers

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NEW YORK NOW – Lawmakers in Albany are pushing for a larger funding increase to raise wages for workers in the human services sector in this year’s state budget than what Gov. Kathy Hochul included in her initial proposed spending plan two months ago.

Both the State Senate and Assembly proposed, in their rebuttal spending plans released over the weekend, double what Hochul included in her budget proposal in January.

The funding would be directed toward providers that receive funding from the state through several agencies dealing with mental health, developmental disabilities, addiction services, children and families, and more.

Hochul has proposed a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for those workers during the upcoming fiscal year. That’s what industry leaders have called for in recent years, along with an additional $500 million.

The State Assembly, in its one-house budget resolution, is proposing an 11% cost of living adjustment for those workers in the upcoming fiscal year.

The State Senate is taking a different approach, calling for a 5.4% increase for those workers twice — once during the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1, and again in the next fiscal year.

Lawmakers who’ve supported a larger investment in the state’s human services providers have said Hochul’s proposal would help those workers, but have suggested a more permanent solution to the funding gap.

State Sen. Samra Brouk, a Democrat from Rochester who chairs the Senate Mental Health Committee, said a one-time increase would be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“Here’s the thing: it’s over after a year,” Brouk said. “That’s not complete. We haven’t finished the job. So, one thing I’m fighting for is making sure we don’t sunset that, if we believe that cost of living increases every year.”

A cost of living adjustment for human services providers has been legally required in New York under statute since 2006, but the law has been rarely enforced. Since then, a cost of living adjustment has only been funded by the state three times.

The cost of living adjustment applies to funding directed toward wages for workers in the human services industry, but would also be raised for other purposes, like day-to-day expenses for providers.

Lawmakers have also rejected a proposal from Hochul to expand what’s known as Kendra’s Law, a decades-old statute that allows a judge to order assisted outpatient mental health treatment in certain cases.

Hochul’s budget proposal would have amended the law to allow new conditions under which someone could be ordered into treatment by the court.

Some mental health advocates had warned against the change, saying it would label those with mental health conditions as dangerous, and in need of judicial intervention.

“Fix the services, don’t force people into them,” said Harvey Rosenthal, head of the New York State Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services “This should be about respecting their rights to the best treatment we can provide.”

The Senate’s one-house budget resolution would extend Kendra’s Law, without changes, through the end of next June. The law is set to expire this year.

The Assembly version would extend Kendra’s Law through 2027, and amend the law to allow physicians to testify to someone’s mental health by videoconference software.

Hochul and lawmakers will now negotiate those differences as part of the final state budget. That’s due at the end of March.