Paratransit expansion, fair pay for home care aides

Independent Perspective 1702 with Todd Vaarwerk discussing paratransit expansion, fair pay for home care aides

Host:  Welcome to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL). Our guest today is Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer of WNYIL, and I'm your host Ernie Churchwell. Welcome to the program, Todd.

Guest:  Always good to be here.

Host:  It's always a pleasure to have you because you have your finger on the pulse of all things disability advocacy in the region. And I understand that you have some significant progress on a couple of fronts to report to our listeners. And some of these are issues that have been pursued for quite some time. So just the fact that there is progress is worthy of reporting. What can you tell us?

Guest:  Sure. Well, as we're coming out of definitely the budget season for the New York State Legislature, one of the things that we can be very proud of is that we've got some significant beginning steps on issues that we've been advocating for, for a long time. First is paratransit expansion. Now anybody who uses paratransit knows that the range of paratransit is limited to three quarters of a mile on a bus stop on either side of a bus stop. And we'd like more. And for years, we've been working with other advocates around the state to kind of settle a level that we'd like to see, and then figure out how to afford expanding paratransit to meet that level. So this year, the with our help of Senator Tim Kennedy, we were able to get a best practice grant for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority so we can figure out if they did expansion to say, a mile and a half on each side of a bus, how much would that cost for the state to increase that minimum to a mile and a half? That's an extremely important first step. It's always good to kind of gauge how much something is going to cost before we ask the state the state government to put say 20 or $30 million in something so that's really a good first step. Now the other thing that we want to talk about is homecare and how much aides are being paid to provide care in the home. Any of our regular listeners will know that we promote being in the community being in your home and in the community because we know it's much less expensive and much healthier and much better for the community, that being in an institution. But aides have to be able to make a living wage in order to be able to come to your house and do the stuff that they need to do for every day. So, for the last couple of years, we've been advocating for something called fair pay for home care. And once again, after a lot of negotiation. During the legislative budget process, we were able to negotiate a $2 minimum wage increase for home care aides this year in October, followed by a $1 increase in addition, next October. So, within a couple of years, we'll be adding $3 an hour to those jobs. Hopefully making them competitive with fast food and service jobs, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, big box stores, you know anything that will make those jobs competitive again, so that people with disabilities can hire their aides.

Host:  I find it ironic that it was an act of kindness towards people with low paying jobs such as fast food workers and big box store employees that actually made that very competitive. In fact, better than the wages that homecare attendants were getting for a much more labor-intensive sort of activity. And the fact that there's progress made on this front is quite significant. I'm sure that there are going to be additional questions that people will have on these topics. Is there a way that they can get in touch with you or email you?

Guest:  They can always call my office 716-836-0822 extension 101 or they can email me at

Host:  We appreciate it and thank you so much for spearheading WNYIL’s action on these two fronts. We salute you.

Guest:  Thank you.

Host:  You've been listening to Independent Perspective, a Public Affairs presentation of WNYIL. Our guest today was Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer of WNYIL and I've been your host Ernie Churchwell