Emergency relief fund aids FDNY EMT who lost 2nd job during pandemic
The EMS FDNY Help Fund, started by EMS providers and their unions after the murder of EMT Yadira Arroyo, helped EMT Naquavia Robinson pay her bills after she could no longer work as a nanny
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — City EMT Naquavia Robinson was raising two sons and just barely scraping by on her salary along with a much-needed boost from a second job as a nanny.
And then the pandemic hit.
Robinson’s day care job evaporated and she quickly found herself in a financial crisis. Her car was repossessed for two missed payments, and she started falling behind on her electric bill and the rent.
“I kind of depended on my second job to pay those bills,” she told the Daily News. “When I lost that job, I didn’t have that backup anymore.”
Desperate for help, Robinson, 29, turned not to the FDNY or City Hall, but to an emergency relief fund started by fellow EMS workers and their unions in the wake of the 2017 murder of EMT Yadira Arroyo.
The fund, she said, has helped her get past the immediate crisis.
Robinson spoke with the Daily News on the day before FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and the head of the Port Authority gathered Wednesday to honor medical personnel, cops and firefighters in Liberty Park. The 2020 National First Responders Day Tribute is being sponsored by the First Responders Children’s Foundation.
“What struck me about (Robinson’s) story is that it’s so familiar,” said Vincent Variale, president of Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621. “EMS workers lose their second job and find themselves in bad straits. We appreciate the gratitude of the public, but I can’t go to the bank and clap my hands and pay the mortgage."
In 2019, there were roughly 1.8 million 911 calls to the FDNY. More than 1.6 million were EMS calls, while just 200,000 were fire calls, Variale said.
Yet the EMTs and paramedics in EMS are paid far less than firefighters, cops and even sanitation workers with the same level of experience. EMTs top out after five years at about $49,000, while the other uniformed employees with five years make close to $90,000.
Most EMS workers have some kind of second income just to meet day-to-day expenses, and they don’t get unlimited sick days.
But for years the city has failed to address these disparities. The EMS has worked for three years without a contract.
“What they are saying is the man coming to pick up your trash is worth more a year than the one coming to save your life,” Variale said. “I think we should be treated better than that.”
Oren Barzilay, head of Uniformed EMTs Local 2507, points out the salary disparity causes high turnover. “Our members are leaving in droves,” he said. “With the pandemic, the risk is too high for such low pay."
An FDNY spokesman said salary and sick leave are negotiated by the unions through collective bargaining, not with the department.
The private, non-profit EMS FDNY Help Fund evolved in the wake of the murder of EMT Arroyo as a kind of necessary solution to a situation that the city hadn’t addressed. Arroyo was fatally run down by a schizophrenic man who stole her ambulance.
“People wanted to help the family but we had no way of collecting and distributing money, and it became a way to help members who have a catastrophic event," Variale said.
Corporate donations from companies like the New York Jets and Verizon helped the fund grow, and provide other services, like private mental health counseling and lodging for quarantined members.
During the pandemic, Variale said, the need for the fund has soared. With no relief coming from the city, some 30 EMS members have obtained funds this year.
Robinson lives in Amenia, N.Y. — about 85 miles from the city — with her sons, ages 2 and 13. She had been providing the day care to three families in the Bronx on top of her EMS job for about two years.
The extra $500 a week bolstered her EMS salary of just $40,000 a year. But in early March, as the pandemic bit, the day care work dried up.
“I got behind on the rent, the car note and the electric," Robinson said. "I had to use savings for food and little things that my children needed.”
The family limped along until July and into August, when the situation overwhelmed her and then repo-men seized her car, a 2019 Acura.
“I came outside my mom’s house to go home and the car was gone,” she said. “My belongings, my wallet, were in the car. All kinds of things were going through my head. I couldn’y even locate it that night.”
A co-worker mentioned the help fund. Robinson sent in an application and she was approved within a couple of weeks. “They paid my electric bill, about $1,300, and gave me $600 for miscellaneous things, and $2,300 to pay the rest of the rent off,” she said.
The cash infusion offered welcome relief to the crisis. “It meant a lot because it helped me get up to par with my bills and took a great weight off my shoulders," she said.
But she never got the car back.
“There was nothing I could do,” she said. “They (the loan company) wanted too much money.”
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