BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Close to 100 family members and community activists rallied to oppose the cuts the state agency that provides support for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities is proposing , which they say is hurting their loved ones, their families, and workers providing their care.

Advocates claim there are more than 32-hundred job openings at Western New York facilities for people with developmental disabilities and it is now a crisis.

” This is an issue that is a social and racial issue that our state legislators and our governor need to stand up for,” said developmental disabilities advocate Brenda McDuffie.

Advocates say the severe staffing shortages are also affecting group homes which have to curtail the number of clients they serve. Why can’t these agencies find workers? The pay.

“It has been the policy of the State of New York that fast food work is more valuable than the work done by direct support professionals,” said Jeff Paterson, Developmental Disabilities Alliance of WNY.

Max and Joyce Donatelli’s son Craig is staying in a group home with six other young men with Down Syndrome. The families do the hiring, but now they can’t even keep enough people on staff.

“We had a couple of staff that just worked until the end of their shift and left–no notice, with no notice.”

The staffing shortages can also lead to financial hardship for the families, such as Lisa Kowal who was forced to give up her government job to care for her adult son on the Autism Spectrum.

“I had to retire early, I had to give up 50 percent of my pension for life and no, I could not afford that cut. I have to care for my son.”

A rally, organized by the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York is calling for passage of a State Senate bill that would repeal the cuts proposed by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and raise the pay scale for direct support professionals.

The New York State Office for People with Development Disabilities released the following statement in response:

New York State has made substantial and ongoing investments in wage increases for our direct care workforce over the past several years, including three targeted initiatives to increase compensation to staff in the not-for-profit sector: 2% increases in 2015; 3.25% increases in 2018 and another round of 2% increases in January and April of 2020. In addition, not-for-profit service providers also received a 1% COLA increase as part of the recently enacted 2021-2022 Budget.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.