SCHENECTADY — Local ARC organizations, short on job applicants and short on money to pay them, focused on non-financial rewards Thursday as they launched a recruiting drive.
Direct support professionals make a difference every day in another person’s life, they said, which is an intangible benefit few jobs can offer.
The six ARCs represented at a new conference Thursday in Schenectady are short 600 workers in nine counties. And there are a total of 4,000 vacancies at the 37 ARCs statewide.
The ARCs operating in and near the Capital Region staged a rally in late July to advocate for higher state reimbursement rates that would allow them to raise pay for their personnel.
That effort continues, and ARC leaders see reasons for optimism in the federal stimulus packages.
Meanwhile, Discover the Rewards, a new recruiting effort launched by the 37 ARCs, will include a statewide job fair Sept. 23.
The two efforts — raising money and drawing applications — are closely intertwined.
Schenectady ARC Executive Director Kirk Lewis said trainee pay is only $12.80 per hour. It soon rises to $14 or $15 an hour, but that’s still the same or less than the state-mandated minimum for fast food workers, he said.
This is not at all competitive in the current labor market, where many jobs in other sectors with higher wages are going vacant for lack of workers willing to fill them.
Dan Murray, executive director of Warren-Washington-Albany ARC, said direct support professionals go far beyond the physical assistance the public might see them providing to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The DSPs are mentors, they’re coaches, they’re cheerleaders, they’re confidants, they’re believers,” he said. “It is challenging at times but is also very, very rewarding. [It] is a job that matters and that makes a difference each and every day.”
Participating Thursday were Liberty ARC, Saratoga Bridges, Schenectady ARC, The ARC Lexington, The ARC of Rensselaer County and Warren-Washington-Albany ARC.
Lewis said it was the first time the six organizations had joined for a message of advocacy. The six organizations have 600 openings with a range of duties, schedules and locations wide enough to suit almost anyone, he said.
“This campaign is about making people aware of these opportunities, letting people know the wonderful people they have a chance to work with, and trying to bring people into the job fair on Sep. 23,” Lewis said.
DiscoverTheRewards.org provides information on job opportunities.
After the July 29 rally for increased funding, at which Lewis and others said state funding for ARCs was not keeping up with inflation, the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities said the state has made significant investments over the last several years in wage increases for caregivers in the nonprofit sector: 2% in 2015, 3.25% in 2018 and 2% in 2020, plus a 1% cost of living adjustment in 2021-2022.
Lewis said Thursday those increases were counterbalanced by other cuts and said the 2021 cost of living adjustment was the first in a decade that was supposed to be seeing annual cost of living adjustments.
The Office for People with Development Disabilities said in July it was awaiting federal approval to use federal stimulus money for additional workforce investments.
The ARC New York, the umbrella organization for the 37 ARCs in New York, said it is optimistic that funding will come through, and is advocating for something more than a one-time injection of funding.
New York’s ARCs have a combined 30,000 employees who care for 60,000 intellectually and developmentally disabled people.