‘We have our rights’: Disability advocates head to Albany for funding rally

Disability advocates to rally in Albany on Monday

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — People with disabilities and direct support professionals across the state are heading to Albany Monday for a rally. Direct support professionals help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live independently, gain jobs, and participate in their communities.

In her 2025 budget, Governor Kathy Hochul acknowledged years of “neglect and disinvestment” in support for disabled adults, and provided a 1.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA). But inflation went up more than 3%, meaning these already low-budget organizations will be taking another pay cut.

Groups from all around New York are heading to Albany to ask for a 3.2% increase, and a $4,000 increase for direct support professionals each year. 

“We don’t even think we’re asking for a lot, we’re not asking to be made whole for the years and years of neglect in our field,” Arc of Monroe president Tracy Petrichick said. “But we are asking to at least cover this cost of living and make a small impact on the direct support professional wages.”

Petrichick said The Arc of Monroe is severely struggling to fill positions, and barely offers above minimum wage for direct support professionals. If it can’t get staff in the door, it will have to start slashing programs.

Losing those programs means a higher strain on other industries and areas of support — like psychiatric hospitals, or group homes. 

So where should the money come from in a finite budget?

 “The dollars that are being allocated for luxury-type items,” she said. “Whether it’s investing in swimming pools or recreational components. I think unfortunately that’s where you have to take a hard look and say that those are nice to have. but these people deserve to have a life where they can get services that they need.”

Reenie Levy has been receiving support from the Arc of Monroe for 40 years. She is deaf and has a learning disability.

“[People with disabilities] have the whole world — the world is open for them! For their learning and – we have come so far from where we were years ago, until now,” Levy said. “We can do anything — whatever we want to do. We can get married, we can go on dates, we can change our social life – we have a social life. We can change our sexuality … I mean. We have our rights.”

The Arc of Monroe has helped her with things like getting jobs, making appointments, and going shopping. She’ll be in Albany on Monday, too.

 “I’m like the voices of people that can’t talk, and I want to make sure that the government knows that we need the money for finances or else we’re going to be back in institutions again,” Levy said. “And I don’t want to see that. We have come from so far from working in McDonald’s and working in business offices and everything. And I don’t want to see us go backwards.”