Watching New York Governor Cuomo for the last ten years one gets the sense that he was one of those children who stared the first time he saw a disabled person, was jerked away and told not to stare. One also gets the sense that he spent every moment since then pretending not to recognize the Disability Community at all. Other than his long since abandoned Olmstead report in 2013, consideration of our Community has been largely absent from his policy initiatives.
This refusal to recognize and serve the Disability Community has been evident throughout the Governor’s 2021 State of the State speeches. From the subtle, like the lack of any understanding of the ways Franklin D. Roosevelt’s experience as a member of Disability Community helped shape his commitment to the New Deal, to the obvious, the lack of any mention of the devastation Covid has wreaked on disabled people living in nursing facilities. There were plenty of initiatives and stated goals that could be executed in ways that would serve the Disability Community, but little sign that our community will be even an afterthought in the Governor’s plans.
The Governor’s proposals for billions in new transportation infrastructure could offer improved access. However, to date the state has been more concerned with arguing over who is responsible for paying for any fix, than they have been with actually making accessibility improvements. Any developments we have seen, have come from advocates taking the MTA to court rather than from the Governor’s commitment.
We have seen Governor Cuomo repeatedly ignore or pass up opportunities to ensure that disabled people have access to transportation. He moved forward with the approval of ridesharing in the state before addressing the inaccessibility and discrimination of ridesharing companies. This exacerbated inaccessibility, but has led to the contraction of public transportation in many areas, which in turn has led to the contraction of para-transit, the one reliably accessible transportation option available to many disabled people.
Investing in Growth: Home and Community-Based Services
CDR can support Governor Cuomo’s position related to economic recovery from Covid, some businesses and industry would disappear while we must seize the opportunity and invest in others. We even have a recommendation. The nursing facility industry and its irreparably broken model of warehousing disabled people must stop.
In recognition that home care is the fastest growing sector in the State, the Governor needs to take this opportunity to invest in home and community-based services. He can do so by addressing the workforce crisis and mandating that all homecare workers be paid no less than 150% of the minimum wage. In addition to investing in this area of economic growth it would support disabled employers who currently employ more than 70,000 workers through the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance program (CDPA), and give those workers a wage they can actually live on. This in turn would attract more people to home care. It would ensure that no one’s ability to stay in the safety and freedom of the community would be jeopardized by a lack of workforce as it routinely is today. Governor Cuomo however has spent most of the last two years working to limit the growth of this industry.
Governor Cuomo spoke of initiatives to increase affordable housing. There was no mention of how much of accessibility for people with disabilities. Or what was meant by low cost. Too often in the past the Governor has called things low cost that are out of the realm of affordability for many disabled people. The housing he has targeted for disabled people has been focused on supportive housing rather than the accessible affordable integrated housing for which the Disability Community has advocated. Supportive housing is very popular with parent led groups focused protecting their children, is not fully integrated housing. Disability led organizations have focused on the need for accessible affordable integrated housing as a means of further ensuring people are a part of their communities. Unfortunately, this is not the only place the governor’s vision works against our full integration into the community. Governor Cuomo has repeatedly vetoed legislation that would enable disabled and aging New Yorkers to make their homes more accessible.
His proposal to convert under-utilized hotel and office space into affordable housing options is a wonderful idea, in fact it is an idea that CDR and New York’s Independent Living Network proposed last spring as a way to move people from deathtrap congregate nursing facilities to the safety of the community. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo has completely ignored that proposal and continues to refuse to serve the Disability Community needs. His plan is to offer this housing only to the homeless population – a classification the State refuses to extend to disabled people being warehoused in nursing facilities.
The War on Covid
Governor Cuomo spent much of his four speeches talking about the war on Covid and the recovery. Again his refusal to recognize and serve the Disability Community was evident in his lack of any mention of the thousands of disabled people who have died in the State’s nursing facilities. To date there has been no acknowledgement that the State’s reliance on this broken model has been responsible for so many unnecessary deaths. In June, the Governor claimed that nursing facilities were safer than being at home. Research has shown the opposite was true[i]. He needs to recognize the devastation in these institutions made worse by his inaction.
The Disability Community deserves a Governor that values us. There are real problems facing New York. Some like the loss of state and local taxes have been thrust upon the State, but many like the workforce shortage and the over-reliance on institutions for long term care have been exacerbated or created by this Governor. Next week, the Governor has an opportunity to take real leadership in addressing the issues effecting disabled New Yorkers and all disabled people. We will be watching.