Human Services COLA’s: Maintaining a Qualified and Consistent Workforce

Each year local, state,  and federal governments provide important Cost of Living Adjustments, or COLA’s, in various forms of government benefits  and contracts, including Social Security benefits, pension’s, and employment contracts.  Tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), these COLA’s help salaries and benefits keep pace with inflation and allow workers and retiree’s to pay for rent hikes, increases in food prices, and other general “cost-of-living” increases[1].   These COLA’s are not only important to help maintain the buying power of salaries and pensions, but also help attract and maintain quality workers with the promise of a continually competitive wage.

For human services providers in New York, however, these annual adjustments continue to be a distant reality.  For the past four years COLA’s have been absent from New York State contracts for human services employees, amounting to more than 8 percent in lost adjustment increases[2].  At an average non-profit salary of $45,000 a year[3], that comes to a loss of almost $5,000 over that four year period; enough money for a few months of rent or child care, a down payment on a car, or to put towards student loans.  This year COLA’s for this important workforce are once again in question.

These nonprofit workers are responsible for caring for our elderly, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, preventing child abuse, educating our youth, preparing low-income individuals for better jobs, and more.  As demand for these services increases and funding for programs decline, a well-qualified and well-staffed human services workforce is needed now more than ever, yet has become increasingly difficult without the promise of an annual wage adjustment.  Maintaining a qualified and consistent workforce not only benefits employees and organizations, but provides an all-important level of consistency, stability, and reliability for those receiving services.

Additionally, nonprofit employees tend to be lower wage earners. In some cases, salaries of direct care workers in the not-for-profit human services sector are so low they approach or fall below the federal poverty level[4].  Providing them with a COLA will offer some economic relief to a substantial portion of New York’s working poor.

Some recognition of the importance of COLA’s to the human services workforce has come from State officials, but we have yet to see this support turn into tangible action.  We must implore our elected and appointed leaders to maintain a commitment to providing these crucial adjustments.  Keeping services strong and maintaining quality workers is vital to the success of the human services sector, especially in a time when they are needed most. With the threat of another cut to human services COLA’s this year, now is the time to voice your support for its reinstatement.  To take action, contact Governor Cuomo (information below) or visit our website for more ways to get involved.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

State Capitol

Albany, NY 12224


Contributed by Cory Mills-Dick of the Human Services Council

[2] Pursuant to Part L of Chapter 58 of the Laws of 2009, Part F of Chapter 111 of the Laws of 2010, Part F of Chapter 59 of the Laws of 2011, and Part H of Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2012, COLAs were deferred in 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.


[4] NYS DOL Employment Prospects To 2014- Occupational Employment Statistics Survey as available October 2008





About Human Services Council

The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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