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Hope in the Face of Despair: No COLAs, Year Six

March 11, 2014
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 6, 2014.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 6, 2014.

Providers are seeing a faint flicker of hope based on reports that the New York State Assembly will include a 2% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for human service provider agencies in this week’s expected “one-house budget bill”.   The Assembly’s support, however, comes in stark contrast to opposition from Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose Executive Budget proposal for FY2014-15 calls for deferring COLAs for a sixth straight year.

Last week, a group of human service sector leaders met with representatives of the Governor and came away with no indication whatsoever that the he was prepared to budge on the issue this year.  Fran Barrett, the Governor’s Liaison to the Nonprofit Sector, and Louisa Chaffee, Deputy Secretary for Human Services, reportedly acknowledged that the lack of COLAs was difficult for nonprofit providers.  However, all talk of potential relief apparently focused on next year – FY2015-16 – rather than the budget for FY2014-15, beginning on April 1st, which is currently being negotiated.

By contrast, the Assembly has been supportive of COLAs.  Assembly Mental Health Committee Chairwoman Aileen Gunther reportedly said on Sunday that an increase was overdue and “a matter of basic fairness and dignity” for workers serving the most fragile citizens.

On February 7th, 102 members of the Assembly led by Harvey Weisenberg of Long Island, signed on to a letter urging that a COLA be included in the body’s “one-house” budget proposal.

“As you are aware, we enacted the Human Services COLA in the 2006 budget and it was authorized for three years.  In 2006 only, a COLA was granted for these employees, but has been eliminated from every state budget since that time,” they wrote.  “The Executive Budget for 2014-15 has once again failed to appropriate funding for the employees who provide direct care for some of New York’s most vulnerable people and are among the lowest paid in our workforce… We must now ensure that the workforce closest to these vulnerable individuals are valued and compensated with a living wage.”

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