Letter: Wages Make Me Grimace

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While Governor Andrew Cuomo pretends to care about the underprivileged, we need to have an in-depth examination of what the reality of higher wages is outside the arena of the fast-food establishments.

As the dad of a child with autism, I am in awe of the teachers, therapists and other direct care providers that help my son get closer to a normal life. They do a nearly impossible job with many daily challenges and frustrations. The reward of a major break-through with the children and adults they serve, although few and far between, is what drives their decision to get out of bed day after day. I hold their jobs, as some of the noblest of careers, placing them on the same pedestal as mainstream educators, doctors and first responders. The exception here is, they are among the lowest compensated among educators.

Teacher assistants in private placement schools, for example, can have a starting salary as low as $9.50 per hour. Many haven’t had an increase in pay for the past six years. The decision to hold their salaries at the status quo, without so much as a cost of living adjustment, is not made by their employers, but rather the governor. The NYS Education Department has made a recommendation to the Division of Budget that their salaries be increased. To date, the DOB has not implemented these changes. It is clear that the governor is very generous with other people’s money. Definitely a case of do as I say, not as I do.

An increase to fast-food workers’ wages without boosting the salaries of the caregivers of the weakest part of our population will have devastating effects on the special needs community. When the salary of fast-food workers is more competitive than those we pay to teacher assistants, there will surely be an exodus of qualified staff from the talent pool. Children and adults with special needs will go without adequate services, while their caregivers make the difficult decision to leave the field and brush up on their skill to say “wanna supersize that?”

The governor must immediately give the green light to NYSED to implement changes to the pay-rate methodology so that service providers can pay a decent wage to those who take care of our mentally disabled population. The alternative is unthinkable; a generation of individuals who cannot properly fend for themselves and will require a more intense level of care later in life, costing the tax-payer even more in the long run. To paraphrase, you can pay them now, or we will all pay later.

—Stephen D. Wangel

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