Governor Hochul, addressing a statewide hospital-staffing crisis that has been growing since the start of the pandemic, announced a planned $10-billion investment to recruit and retain health-care workers Jan. 5 as part of her first State of the State address.
The state, assuming the Legislature adopted her proposal as part of a new budget that must be negotiated by April 1, would allocate $2 billion for retention bonuses, with health-care workers who stayed on the job for one year eligible for a bonus up to $3,000. Another $2 billion would be used to boost the salaries of hospital employees, while $500 million would fund cost-of-living adjustments. She is hoping those incentives can increase the number of health-care workers by 20 percent over the next five years.
A Virus State of Mind
Such investments were a primary focus of Ms. Hochul’s agenda, as coronavirus cases reached all-time highs across the state.
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“We simply do not have enough health-care workers in our hospitals or in our long-term care facilities; in our ambulances or in the homes of our loved ones. We must stop the current hemorrhaging of health-care workers, and we're going to do it not just by saying we owe them a debt of gratitude but actually paying them the debt we owe,” she said during the Jan. 5 event.
In addition to raising wages, the Governor aims to make health-care education and training more accessible by offering free tuition to those who go on to work in the state for a specified period of time after obtaining their credentials. She also intends to establish a “Nurses Across NY” program that places nurses in underserved communities.
The New York State Nurses Association has sounded an alarm that 30-to-50 percent of staff were out sick with COVID at many hospitals across the state. The Governor’s Office indicated that the number of health-care workers was 11 percent below where it needed to be by the end of the year to keep up with patient-care demands.
Unions: 'Essential Step'
In a joint statement from NYSNA, the Communications Workers of America and the Public Employees Federation, the unions called the Governor’s agenda “essential for protecting the health and safety of the public.”
“This proposed massive infusion of resources could not have come at a more-critical moment. Skyrocketing cases have pushed our health-care system to the brink of collapse. Morale is at rock bottom, thousands of health-care workers are quitting their jobs in despair, staffing levels are dangerously low, and hospital conditions are deplorable. A major infusion of health-care resources cannot wait—it must happen as soon as possible,” the unions said.
George Gresham, president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, said that Ms. Hochul’s proposal honored “the work and sacrifices that 1199SEIU members have endured.”
“We are pleased to see the Governor is making a significant commitment to invest in the current health-care workforce, increasing the number of new workers joining the workforce, and moving them along their career pathway,” he said. “While we await more details in the budget proposal, we do have key questions about support for vital safety-net institutions that have provided lifesaving care during this pandemic and about how the need for permanent wage increases will be addressed.”
Something for Teachers
The budget proposal was aimed at supporting those hit hardest by the pandemic, “starting with the New Yorkers who have been on the front lines since Day One,” said Ms. Hochul, who is seeking a full term after stepping into her job after Andrew Cuomo's abrupt resignation as Governor last August.
She also announced initiatives aimed at the Teacher shortage, which was expected to worsen as a large percentage of educators became eligible to retire at full pension over the next few years. The state estimated that it will need 180,000 new Teachers over the next decade.
The Governor also proposed lifting the $35,000 income limit for retirees, allowing some educators to return to the workforce. Staff would be added to the Department of Education’s teacher-certification office to speed the hiring process.
Ms. Hochul also promised to fully fund Foundation Aid by the 2023-2024 school year. The funding formula, which determines how much aid goes to each school district, was established after the State Court of Appeals determined in 2006 that New York was not providing students with a “sound and basic education” in many of its poorest districts. About half the funding for city public schools comes from the state.
UFT: Laying the Foundation
The United Federation of Teachers has long-called for the state to increase its investment in Foundation Aid. Union President Michael Mulgrew celebrated the announcement.
“By sending billions of additional Foundation Aid dollars to public schools–in particular, to schools serving higher-need students–[Ms. Hochul] is laying the foundation for all our children to flourish,” he stated.
Revitalizing the State University of New York was also prioritized in her. She called SUNY and the City University of New York “engines of social mobility [which] still have untapped potential that needs to be harnessed." Increasing enrollment at SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities from 400,000 to 500,000 by 2030, modernizing labs and establishing a “jobs accelerator” program were cited as part of the mission to transform the public-university system.
United University Professions President Fred Kowal said that the plans outlined by Ms. Hochul “laid the groundwork to reverse what has been more than a decade of disinvestment in SUNY.”