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Coalition calls on Hochul to boost Early Intervention provider pay

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Assemblymember Josh Jensen talks about his son's experience with the Early Intervention program during a news conference Wednesday. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Assemblymember Josh Jensen talks about his son's experience with the Early Intervention program during a news conference Wednesday.
Monroe County leaders and children’s advocates are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to increase reimbursement rates for therapists and teachers working with children with development delays in the state’s Early Intervention system.

The Early Intervention program has been bleeding help because, advocates say, the state hasn’t over the past two decades meaningfully increased what it pays them, an amount known as the reimbursement rate.

“Early Intervention therapists have received minimal raises over the past 20 years,” Brigit Hurley, chief program officer for The Children’s Agenda, said during a news conference Wednesday. “Their payment rates now are lower than they were in the 1990s. Imagine trying to make ends meet in 2022 on a 1995 salary.”

The Children’s Agenda has launched the “Kids Can’t Wait” campaign, which aims to pressure Hochul into raising the Early Intervention reimbursement rate by 11 percent in the state’s budget next year. Strong Pediatrics, Golisano Children’s Hospital, and the Rochester Area Community Foundation are among the 95 organizations backing the increase.

Due to the stagnant pay, there are not enough providers to keep up with the need for Early Intervention services, which has led to delays in children receiving them. They include occupational, speech, and physical therapists, as well as teachers of the blind and deaf.

Right now, 216 Monroe County children under the age of 3 have been waiting more than 30 days to see an Early Intervention provider. Children of color and children living in poverty are disproportionately represented on the waitlist.

County Executive Adam Bello, a Democrat, and state Assemblymember Josh Jensen, a Republican, both spoke in support of boosting Early Intervention reimbursement rates during Wednesday’s news conference at the Children’s Agenda Offices in downtown Rochester. Both also said their own children benefitted from the program.

Bello said that his son received services that helped him better communicate with his classmates and teachers by the time he entered kindergarten. That was in 2013, before the system fell into crisis.

“Every child deserves access to the resources and support they need to lead safe, healthy, and successful lives,” Bello said. “Timely access to the services offered by Early Intervention are critical to the growth of children with developmental delays and varying abilities.”

Jensen, who recalled not being able to talk until he was 5 years old, said he received Early Intervention services through Rochester Hearing and Speech. His 4-year-old son also received speech therapy at his daycare, but Jensen said his son has been through three different therapists in the last year due to turnover.

“We certainly have to improve reimbursement rates because we have to be able to pay people an appropriate wage for the work they're doing,” Jensen said. “And if they can go make money doing a different job, human nature is they're gonna go do that, and it's not because they don't care about the children that they're working with, it's just they need to support their families as well.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY's deputy editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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