Advocacy Resources

Guidance and Policy on Reopening on Day Services, Allowing Community Activities, Bringing Back Residents Currently with Family, and Family Visits

Revised COVID-19 Day Habilitation Guidance Revised Interim COVID-19 Guidance Regarding Community Habilitation Services Revised Interim COVID-19 Guidance Regarding Prevocational Services Interim COVID-19 Guidance Regarding Pathway to Employment Interim COVID-19 Guidance Regarding Respite Interim COVID-19 Guidance Regarding Supported Employment Daily Trip Log Home Visit Questionnaire Extended Home Visit Questionnaire Guidance and Policy Document for Home Visits For Family Members COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Main St. Canton COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Commerce Lane Canton COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Norwood COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Jefferson COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Jefferson CPV COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Watertown COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - St. Lawrence COVID-19 Safety Plan for Certified Day Program Reopening - Ogdensburg

These procedures are the result of reviewing guidance from OPWDD, ensuring staff is aware of the information and process and then developing the agency procedure related to such. We are currently working on our safety plan for reopening and procedures related to this guidance and will have that out soon. Please contact the residential site with any questions.

opwdd logo

July 10, 2020    A Message from Commissioner Kastner

Interim Guidance on Home Visits, Community Outings, Day Services and Return to Residences After Extended Home Visits Now Available

OPWDD is pleased to announce that guidance has been released, and posted on the OPWDD website, which provides guidelines to providers and family members allowing the resumption of home visits, community outings and day services, as well as returning to residential settings following extended home visits. The guidelines will be effective July 15, 2020 for regions of the State that have entered into Phase Four in accordance with the New York Forward Reopening Plan.

I want to thank the people we support and their family members who have reached out over the past few weeks for your advocacy and for your patience as we worked with health experts on a plan that ensures the continued safety of everyone we support. We heard your concerns and have been hard at work on making these shared goals a reality.

The new guidance can be found at the following links on the OPWDD website:

Home Visit Guidance

Return to Residence Following an Extended Stay Guidance

We want to remind everyone to continue to practice social distancing, wear masks when appropriate, limit exposure in public places and continue frequent hand washing to ensure minimal transmission of COVID-19. 

Again, we thank you for your patience as we worked through some of the challenges associated with the safe return to these activities. As always, our number one priority is the health and safety of the people we support.

Impact on COVID-19 for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in NYS


Update from OPWDD as of 8/26/20

  • 3,437 individuals supported have been confirmed to have COVID-19
    • 2,770 of these cases involve individuals residing in certified residential facilities
  • There have been 464 deaths relating to COVID-19
    • 90% of deaths are located in the downstate region (NYC, LI, Rockland, Putnam, Westchester, Orange, Nassau, Suffolk)
    • 83% of deaths are attributed to individuals that are 50 or older
    • 61% of deaths are men
    • 80% of those who have passed away also had one or more comorbidities (i.e. hypertension, diabetes, dementia, cancer, etc...)
  • 4,216 staff have been confirmed to have COVID-19

Procedures and Policy Regarding Visits in Group Homes

The Arc Jefferson- St. Lawrence is pleased to once again be able to allow visitation with family members to our residential locations effective at 4:00 p.m. on June 19, 2020. We understand the concerns of families in regards to visitation with their family member being restricted due to State guidelines for close to three months; but limiting exposure to varied people has been successful in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in all of our residential sites.

To ensure the safety and well-being of all, visits must be scheduled in advance to ensure we have adequate protections in place and continue to limit virus exposure to the residents.

The following must be followed when looking to visit a family member who resides in one of our group homes:

  1. Hours of visitation will be between the hours of 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM and the visit must be scheduled with the Residence Manager or designated staff at the residential location. These hours will be in place until we have a better understanding of what day services will look like in the future. Hours will be adjusted accordingly when the status of day services is updated.
  2. If having difficulty reaching the residence, please call the Administrator on Duty at 315-778-4878 for assistance.
  3. Only one family may visit at any time and no more than two visitors from that family group, with all being above the age of 18. Visits by different family members will be spread out to ensure we have the opportunity to sanitize and disinfectant the area prior to the next visit and to abide by social distancing.
  4. To ensure we have adequate time for family members, we must limit visits to one hour unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as visitation from outside the county. The length of time for the visit may be altered based on number of requests or other unforeseen issues.
  5. Depending on staffing or other issues at the location, such as behavioral or medical issues, the visits may have to be cancelled or rescheduled. We will make a concerted effort to enable visits to continue, but the needs of those who reside at the location will take precedence.
  6. All residents will be notified of a visitor prior to coming to the site. Training and support will be provided to limit exposure to the visitors and to maintain social distancing.
  7. Visitors are required to enter the main entrance of the home.
  8. All visitors must undergo symptom and temperature checks by facility staff at the main entrance prior to the start of the visit. Anyone reporting COVID-19 exposure, symptoms during the prior 14 days, or having a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit shall be denied visitation.
  9. Visitors will be required to properly wear a face mask during the visit when social distancing cannot be maintained. Refusal to wear a mask when social distancing cannot be maintained will result in the visitor not being allowed visitation. Visitors must bring their own mask.
  10. Visitors will be asked to use hand sanitizer on arrival and promote hand washing or sanitizer use during the visit.
  11. We encourage visits to take place outside when possible with masks worn when social distancing cannot be maintained. Visitations inside the residence will occur in a designated area in the house such as the bedroom, kitchen, dining or other area to limit exposure to other residents, promote social distancing and assist us in sanitizing the area after visits. We ask that you stay in those designated areas during the visit.
  12. Regulations state that visitation may only occur on at the residence and shall not include sitting in a non-agency vehicle or leaving the site.
  13. Visitation will not occur with any site or individual that has someone in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 or isolation as a result of COVID-19. We will notify the family member of such when they call for a visit.
  14. Failure to abide by this guidance could result in restricting future visits.


OPWDD On-Demand SNAP Training Course

OPWDD's Revenue Support has developed an on-demand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) course, which is available in SLMS to meet the need for more frequent SNAP trainings. SNAP can be found in the SLMS under class code OPWDD-EL-SNAP. Click here to enroll. You will be prompted to sign in to the SLMS.

For detailed instructions on how to access the SLMS, visit the SLMS Reference page on the OPWDD website. If you have any questions about using the SLMS, please contact Talent Development and Training at

Please forward this email to anyone who may be interested in learning more about SNAP.

Town Hall

Howie Ganter held a virtual Town Hall for family members on 6/17/20. Video of the open forum is here:

Call to Action: Oppose OPWDD Cuts by July 1st!

We need your help to oppose proposed budget cuts that would slash funding to OPWDD voluntary providers. In regards to The Arc Jefferson - St. Lawrence, the impact would be an annualized cut of approximately $1.6 million, based on our current number of vacancies, past experience with therapeutic leave, and retainer days. These cuts to the Residential program are set to start in October and would have a significant impact on our services. 

We need your voices to join this call to action before July 1st. You may use The Arc New York’s advocacy platform ( to send letters to Governor Cuomo and OPWDD opposing the cuts with just one click. A fillable PDF version of the letter with talking points is available for advocates interested in calling or emailing. Click here to download the PDF.

Full details are also outlined below. Thanks for your support and commitment to maintain our services!


Write the Governor and OPWDD to Avoid Drastic Cuts in Funding

The Topic

On May 27, 2020, the Department of Health published a public notice in the New York State Register announcing proposed cuts in reimbursement for IRA and ICF residential programs by eliminating the occupancy adjustment resulting from vacancies and slashing reimbursement by 50% for retainer days when residents are in the hospital or are taking therapeutic leave days for family visits. Finally, after cutting reimbursement by 50% for leave days, the proposal also would impose an annual “cap” of 96 days of therapeutic leave days, after which reimbursement would be reduced to zero.

Ostensibly, this is being done to save taxpayers from paying for “empty beds,” which implies services aren’t delivered. But you know these are not empty beds, they are the homes that our loved ones return to, and you know that service doesn’t stop simply because they’re not in their bed.

If you would like to write your own letter in opposition to the vacancy rate cuts, we have provided some context below for how the proposed cuts would affect service to people with I/DD.


Tips for Writing Your Letter

Identify yourself
Say why you are writing and who you are. List your credentials, your relationship to the I/DD field, and state that you are a constituent. It also doesn't hurt to mention if you voted for or donated to them.

Tell your elected official why this legislation matters to you and the people you know. If you have one, include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family.

Be emotional and factual
Provide detail without exaggeration about how the vacancy rate cuts would affect you and others.

Close with a request
Close by requesting the action you want to be taken. Ask that the state do away with cuts to the vacancy rates and find savings elsewhere.


Talking Points

The proposed vacancy rate cuts in reimbursement for IRA and ICF residential programs would:

  • Take about $200 million every year from our loved ones with I/DD.
  • The proposed cuts will severely limit funding for individuals simply because they require hospitalization due to medical or psychiatric illness or choose to take a therapeutic leave to spend time with family members. 
  • Reduce reimbursement by as much as 7.5% for certain residential programs with significant vacancies, including vacancies due to deaths from COVID-19.
  • Disproportionately harm individuals with serious medical or psychiatric conditions, as they spend more time away from a residence and therefore create more “empty beds.”
  • Drastically cut funding to providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, after providers were seemingly abandoned to the point of having to purchase their own personal protective equipment.
  • Come at a time when voluntary providers are already owed funding from the state. The proposed cuts will directly offset rate enhancements previously provided by the NYS Legislature in 2019.  The Legislature approved two 2% salary enhancements for direct care and clinical staff working in OPWDD residential programs – one increase to be implemented on January 1, 2020, and the second on April 1, 2020.  Neither has been implemented as of this date but remain “under review” with the Division of the Budget. 


Where to Send Your Letter

OPWDD Commissioner Dr. Theodore Kastner
Written comments on the proposed cuts will be accepted from June 1, 2020 through July 1, 2020 and may be submitted by mail to:

    OPWDD, Division of Policy and Program Development
    44 Holland Ave
    Albany, NY 12229

or by e-mail to:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Mail: The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
         Governor of New York State
         NYS State Capitol Building
         Albany, NY 12224
Phone: 1-518-474-8390

Submit a message online at


Template Letter

Dear Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Kastner:

My name is [Insert Name] and I am a constituent and [parent/family member/caregiver/supporter] of a New Yorker with an intellectual and developmental disability.

I am writing in extreme opposition to cuts in reimbursement for IRA and ICF residential programs as published in the State Register.

These cuts would eliminate the occupancy adjustment resulting from vacancies and slash reimbursement in half for days when our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters must go to the hospital, receive therapy, or visit family.

Ostensibly, this is being done to save taxpayers from paying for “empty beds,” which implies services are not being delivered. But these are not empty beds, they are the homes that our loved ones return to, and this cut would jeopardize that simple security.

Just as my own basic expenses don’t go away when I’m on vacation or in the hospital, the cost to a provider for caring for my loved one doesn’t simply vanish when they are away from home.

The costs for direct care staffing - 80% of which is the salary paid to direct care staff, clinical staff and residence supervisors - are fixed and can’t be reduced simply because my loved one is out of the house. Staff provide care around the clock for everyone in a home, and if one person is in the hospital, providers can’t just place a staff member on unpaid leave until the hospital stay is over. 

Voluntary providers have been cut to the bone after years of underfunding by the state. This cut will no doubt cause a decrease in the number of residential openings in the state at a time when there is a waiting list in the thousands for these coveted spots.  

New York has a constitutional obligation to care for its most vulnerable citizens. It is a promise this state has made to my loved one, and to every New Yorker with I/DD. Where you see wastefulness in paying for empty beds, we see the state’s proposed cuts as the delivery of an empty promise.

This empty promise would:

  • Take about $200 million every year from our loved ones with I/DD.
  • Reduce reimbursement by as much as 7.5% for certain residential programs with significant vacancies, including vacancies due to deaths from COVID-19.
  • Disproportionately harm individuals with serious medical or psychiatric conditions.
  • Drastically cut funding to providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, after providers were seemingly abandoned to the point of having to purchase their own personal protective equipment.

Don’t make empty promises.

Allow our family members to have the dignity and stability of returning to the same friends, staff, comforts, and level of service they left. Rethink your proposed cuts to the vacancy rates and find savings elsewhere.


[Insert Name]

Funding Cuts


Please share your voice! Contact your legislators and let them know that you oppose these funding cuts!



Assemblyman Billy Jones
115th Assembly District
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building 551
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5943
District Office
202 U.S. Oval
Plattsburgh, NY 12903
(518) 562-1986

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk
116th Assembly District
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building 940
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5545
Jefferson County District Office
Dulles State Office Building, Suite 210
317 Washington Street
Watertown, NY 13601
(315) 786-0284
St. Lawrence County District Office
3 Remington Ave, Suite 1
Canton, NY 13617
(315) 386-2037

Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush
117th Assembly District
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building 322
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5797
District Office
15 Bridge Street
West Carthage, NY 13619
(315) 493-3909



Senator Elizabeth "Betty" Little
NYS Senate District 45
Albany Office
188 State Street
Legislative Office Building 711B
Albany, New York 12247
(518) 455-2811
District Office
5 Warren Street Suite 3
Glens Falls, NY 12801
(518) 743-0968


Senator Patty Ritchie
48th Senate District
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building 302
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: 518-455-3438
District Office
330 Ford St.
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
(315) 393-3024
Dulles State Office Building, Room 418
Watertown, NY 13601
(315) 782-3418



OPWDD Visitation Guidance 06182020


Journal of ID Report on Serving People During the Pandemic

Click here: to review The Journal of Intellectual Disability's abstract on serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic.


May 14, 2020: Message from Howard Ganter, Chief Executive Officer

Dear Families and Care Providers of The Arc Jefferson - St. Lawrence:

I thought it was time to provide another update on what has been occurring at the organization lately. Fortunately, we continue to do very well in both counties in relation to those we support and staff not contracting COVID-19. As of today, two agency staff members have tested positive and no residents. A number of staff have been tested or quarantined, but all have returned to work after having negative test results.

We continue to primarily provide services out of our residential locations, as well as Respite and Supplemental Day Habilitation to a group of individuals in St. Lawrence County. Our Qualified Intellectual Developmental Professionals continue to reach out to families to determine their needs. They may be reached in Jefferson County at 315-836-1333 and St. Lawrence County at 315-379-9531. If you have any questions or concerns after hours or on the weekend, you may call our Administrator on Duty at 315-778-4878.

The Arc Jefferson - St. Lawrence Logo

All our staff have been provided with two facemasks and are wearing them during their work hours. In the residential and program sites, staff are wearing masks during the whole shift. In the administrative offices, we have reduced the number of people who are working through staggered schedules, remote work and using accrued time. We are following protective guidance by taking the temperatures of the people we support and staff each day along with checking for any of the COVID related symptoms.

We also continue to promote handwashing, the use of sanitizer, and regular cleaning of all locations with emphasis on those areas that are frequently touched such as door knobs, light switches, etc. We have procured adequate supplies of personal protective equipment in the event of any location having someone who tests positive.

We have been alerted that the North Country has met the criteria for Phase I. This does not directly impact us and we will continue to follow the guidance of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Dept. of Health, and local Public Health. If the North Country meets the criteria in the next two weeks, we will move into Phase II, which does involve our services.

In preparation, we have started to develop plans on how we will reopen, what precautions and restrictions will be put in place, how we will transport, and how we will manage social distancing. We are looking at other program models that meet the needs of those we support and provide adequate protections.

We are creating a survey and will use a variety of methods to implement, including calling families at home, using survey monkey, or mailing surveys to see how families feel about reopening. We want to know what they envision the future of services to be for their family member. We will also be surveying people we support and staff to assist us in planning.

We do not envision going back to the traditional model of service in the near future. As you have probably read in the paper or heard on the news, New York State is having a significant budgetary crisis as a result of COVID-19 and we anticipate it will result in cuts if the Federal government does not provide some relief.

There is a fourth stimulus bill (Heroes Act) being developed in the House that will provide an additional $3 Trillion dollars to states, localities, and organizations to assist with recovery from the pandemic. We would encourage you to reach out to our Congresswoman and Senators to request they support the recommendations in the COVID-19 package as it relates to our services.

I cannot emphasize enough the great job our staff are doing to keep the people we support engaged, safe, and comfortable during this crisis. They continue to report to work each and every day to meet the needs of those we support and are the real Heroes. Thank you for your continued support.

Howard Ganter
Chief Executive Officer