Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on HealthFebruary 8, 2022
Testimony of Helen Schaub, Vice President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Health
February 8, 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to deliver this testimony regarding the proposed health budget on behalf of the 300,000 New York State members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
We are approaching the two-year mark since the first COVID case was diagnosed in our state. As so many have noted, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the frontline healthcare workforce. Our members are traumatized and exhausted, with barely time to breathe before the next wave comes crashing over. They have witnessed too much death – of their patients, residents, colleagues and community members. They have worked in unsafe conditions without access to proper protective equipment. They are trapped in a vicious cycle of understaffing, where the working conditions lead more people to leave, leading again to worse staffing. While there have been bright moments of recognition and appreciation, this has too often not resulted in material changes for workers’ lives.
Governor Hochul has spoken movingly about the situation facing healthcare workers in her State of the State and has committed real resources for workers and workforce development in her Executive Budget Proposal. These include bonuses for healthcare workers and $140 million per year in workforce development, including tuition and other support to bring new workers to the field. This recognition is an important first step in rebuilding our healthcare system by investing in its human infrastructure. We look forward to working with the Legislature on these proposals, including to make sure that any bonus money is fairly distributed to all frontline healthcare workers. As it stands, the Executive’s proposal excludes key members of the care team, including those who clean patients’ rooms, transport them within the hospital and deliver their food.
A time to invest
The State’s fiscal outlook has rarely been better, with no deficits projected for the next seven years. Indeed, the Executive proposes to put $2.7 billion away in reserves and has another $9 billion set aside for economic uncertainty. A good portion of this surplus is driven by the Federal government’s increase in Medicaid funding during the pandemic. Given this and the State’s strong fiscal position overall, this is exactly the right moment to make real investments and address the ways in which our state has historically underfunded services for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Indeed, the pandemic laid bare the ways in which our system was already failing those most in need, from the high death toll of nursing home residents to overwhelmed emergency rooms to home care consumers left without care.
Seven million New Yorkers – 35% of our population – rely on Medicaid for their health care, including over 500,000 who need long term care services for their everyday needs. To access care, Medicaid consumers need doctors and hospitals in their local communities. But with payments frozen as costs go up, access to care is threatened.