New Yorker of the Week | Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright looks to be a champion for New York’s disabled

Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright

First elected in 2014 to represent the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island in the state Assembly, Rebecca Seawright started another new term on New Year’s Day. 

Along with her fifth term in office came a new assignment. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie appointed Seawright as chair of the Assembly’s People with Disabilities Committee. Formerly part of the now defunct Mental Health & Disabilities Committee, the People with Disabilities Committee focuses on the various issues important to New Yorkers facing physical and mental challenges in their lives.

Known for her dynamic personality when she walks around the State Capitol or shows up for a meeting, Seawright is enthusiastic with her new responsibility, believing she can have a direct impact on thousands of peoples’ lives.

“This is very personal for me,” she explained. “My father’s sister, my only aunt, was born with severe challenges. I was very close to her.  So I come with experience about these issues.”  

Seawright said she’s ready to go all-in on the cause, just as she’s done with other issues facing the Assembly in recent years.

“When I take on a cause, I go 110%. I am the lead sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Assembly, one of two bills which Governor Hochul put on last July’s special session,” she said.  I am anticipating passage the week of Jan. 24 in honor of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  This is an expanded Equal Rights Amendment which includes preventing discrimination against people with disabilities.”

Seawright is leading the charge for “Disabilities Advocates Day” at the State Capitol, which will actually take place on two days, Feb. 6 and 8.

“I am hopeful I can galvanize thousands of people for a rally and media conference on the 6th,” Seawright said. “I am publicly inviting students with disabilities from our CUNY and SUNY systems, and higher education institutions on Feb. 8, coming together to rally at the Capitol.  I am confident that we can make progress this legislative session to promote equality for people with disabilities not only in the state funding process but in legislation to bring about needed changes.”

With all lawmakers again meeting in the Capitol and the dark days of COVID-19 behind them, Seawright said it’s essential for the legislature during this session to act on providing proper resources where they are needed, such as correcting “the inequities by paying homecare workers and direct support service providers additional funds now.”

“I intend to dive into the NYS Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) Commissioner’s recently released five year aggressive strategic plan. There are some good features in it.  But we need execution,” she declared. “In my new capacity I want to see results for some of the priorities such as:  Focusing on providers, focusing on support staff…which has had a huge turnover since Covid.  I want the care service people to get paid an increase they deserve…many agencies and organizations in this field are now suffering from a 20% vacancy rate.  We need to adjust and invest additional dollars.  I am committed to pushing for wage enhancement and increasing hourly pay.  I will drive this point home among my legislative colleagues.”

Many organizations have vented about their current crisis to Rebecca Seawright. They’ve found difficulty in meeting the $15 per hour minimum for caregivers in group homes based on what NYS OPWDD budgets and allows, is inadequate and cannot even compete with fast food sector jobs.

Seawright says the state should help these nonprofits by providing additional funds to meet challenges faced as a result of rising inflation.

“In addition to the direct support wage enhancement to increase the hourly pay, I am proposing an 8.5% cost of living adjustment to offset the rising inflation costs, so organizations can operate at a sustainable rate,” the assembly member said.

Also on her agenda is a Zoom hearing where she seeks to hear from caregivers and direct support workers who serve group homes throughout the state.

“I want to be a strong voice for people with disabilities who may not be able to speak up for themselves…” Seawright asserted.