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Minimum Wage: When more is not more

Minimum Wage: When more is not more

With much fanfare, Governor Cuomo’s minimum wage law passed with the 2016 state budget handing his administration a historic political victory. Across the state and especially in New York City, the lowest paid workers who currently earn the state minimum of $9.00 per hour,  got some very good news with this recent announcement, but what does it mean for Venture staff and for workers statewide whose job it is to support our citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities? Will a higher wage benefit the people they serve?

In truth, what the Governor passed was not what disability or human service advocates had asked for. What we asked for was a rate increase that would bring our salaries up proportionately with the minimum wage increase.  And, as the Governor does his victory lap, without that increase what disability agencies like Camp Venture face is a new and potentially greater challenge to recruit and retain qualified and effective staff.

Over the next several years, at a rate that will be different for various regions of the state, the minimum hourly wage that employers are required to pay all employees, will increase over time in a stepped process. For New York City, the minimum wage will increase to $11 at the end of 2016, then increase by another $2 each year after that until reaching $15 by December 31, 2019.  Small businesses with 10 employees or fewer, will have a minimum wage increase to $10.50 by the end of 2016, then another $1.50 each year after, reaching $15 on December 31, 2019. For Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties, the minimum wage will increase to $10 at the end of 2016, then $1 each year after that, reaching $15 on December 31, 2021.The rest of the state’s minimum wage will increase to $9.70 at the end of 2016, then increase by another $.70 each year after that until reaching $12.50 on December 31, 2020. After 2020, the minimum wage will continue to increase to $15 on an indexed schedule to be set by the Director of the Division of Budget in consultation with the Department of Labor.

Similar to California, there is a “safety valve” for the increases. Beginning in 2019, the state Division of Budget Director will conduct an annual analysis of the economy in each region and the effect of the minimum wage increases, statewide, to determine whether a temporary suspension of the scheduled increases is necessary. That analysis is submitted to the Department of Labor by the Division of Budget.

Rockland County is a part of the “rest of the state.” For us, again, the minimum wage will increase to $9.70 per hour at the end of this year. It will go up by $.70 every year after that until it reaches $12.50 at the end of 2020.

Other than the increase to the relief rate, the minimum wage law will not start to push the wage up for Camp Venture staff until 2019 (when it goes to $11.10 in this region). Moreover, if the initial implementation regulations for New York City are any indicator, the Governor’s intent is to only fund agencies to meet the minimum requirement. That is, funding to agencies in the New York City area this year, for example, will only be exactly what those agencies need to bring their salaries up to the minimum wage requirements for the January 1, 2017 deadline. No trend or COLA was passed in the budget beyond the indexed amount (.02%) carried over from the 2014 budget agreement so the agencies who will receive a funding increase for their staff, are those who by January 1. 2016, need that additional funding specifically to comply with the law .

Though the potential for a higher wage is a hopeful event for low wage workers, Camp Venture staff, under this legislation, are not going to see the benefit soon. For the agency, the next couple of years may be very difficult if staff move to other jobs where the salary is equal but which do not not have as arduous requirements.

“If you can drive to the Bronx and make more money to do a job that does not involve the same level of responsibility as caring for vulnerable people, I have to believe that that will be what a lot of people do,” explains Dan Lukens, Camp Venture’s, Executive Director. “ Direct support work is not a minimum wage job and if that is all we have to offer in the way of salary, we are just not going to have what we need to attract qualified people. In that regard, we can only hope that Governor will recognize that and take a different view of our funding in coming years.”

The work of Camp Venture is the work of the agency’s direct support workforce and, indeed, if the agency is a caring place it is for the people who do the job and do it with professionalism, kindness and compassion. What they deserve is a lot better than what they got in this round but, on that score, we can only hope.

People across the state, most of whom work in private sector jobs, will have more money in their pockets once the law is implemented and the businesses that employ them will need to adjust their prices and adopt new strategies to meet this requirement. For those workers, the additional cost burden falls on their employer and what the state gets is the potential for increased tax revenue and lower costs for assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid. Venture staff, on the other hand, are the people whom the Governor pays himself through the state Medicaid program and so any salary increase to them increases his cost to the Medicaid program.

“Justice,” according to Governor Cuomo would have direct support staff making the same salary as workers currently earning the minimum wage. In our view, that hardly makes sense given the difficulty, the professional requirements and the responsibility involved in direct support work. Nonetheless, ultimately it is not what we think or the Governor thinks that matters to the citizens with disabilities that depend on these staff. To them, they either have the people they need to assist them or they do not. It’s that simple.


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2008 Rockland County Autism Symposium Venture Foundation Address
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