...Preparation for Disasters Progresses in NYC's Human Services Sector

 

HSC stands in sympathy with those who are suffering the effects of Hurricane Harvey as well as the multiple human services organizations that are attending to them.

For many New Yorkers, this event stirs up sharp recollections of Hurricane Sandy and serves as a reminder that, regrettably, the City could be victim to another such disaster.

Over the years since Hurricane Sandy, HSC has been partnering with many organizations from the human services and public sector toward ensuring that human services organizations are prepared to play pivotal roles in the event of a disaster. A number of recent developments give us cause for optimism that the sector’s preparedness for disaster is improving, and will continue to gain strength:

Mayoral Taskforce

Following the passage of City legislation introduced by Councilmember Mark Treyger, whose district experienced first-hand the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, the Mayoral Administration established the Hurricane Sandy Houses of Worship and Charitable Organizations Recovery Taskforce to review the experiences of community- and faith-based organizations in the response to Hurricane Sandy and recommend strategies designed to lead to improved performances in dealing with future disasters.  Chaired by Allison Sesso, HSC’s Executive Director, the group produced a comprehensive report that sets forth numerous plans – such as enhancing inter-sector coordination and communications, better clarifying roles and responsibilities, and ensuring that participating organizations are properly resourced – that offer the promise of efficient systems and highly constructive partnerships going forward.  Along with many of our colleagues in the human services sector, HSC will be conferring with City government colleagues toward implementing the report’s recommendations.

Publication of HSC’s Human Services Disaster Work “Framework”

With major input from members of HSC’s Disaster Readiness and Resilience Workgroup, comprised of more than 25 leaders from disaster relief and human services organizations throughout NYC, HSC has developed and recently published the NYC Human Services Sector Framework for Serving New Yorkers after Major Disaster, a thorough guide to engaging in disaster work for human services organizations focused on such matters as integrating services, communications systems, the unique dynamics of the NYC landscape, and coordinating with government.  HSC will be disseminating the document in a variety of ways and making use of it as a basis for collaborative planning as well for supporting the efforts of organizations to develop individualized plans.

Upcoming Training – Save The Date

HSC is partnering with colleagues from NYC Department of Health and Mental Health, NYC Emergency Management, and the Mayor’s Office on Recovery and Resilience to produce a training session designed to help human services leaders better understand changes to their command structure post-disaster and to set the stage for ongoing joint planning between the human service sector and City government. Taking place at HSC on October 26 from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm, the event will involve interactive discussions as well as a facilitated discussion about responding to a potential public health disaster.

Of course, we would all much prefer not to contemplate the specter of disasters, and at HSC we direct the majority of our efforts toward contributing to a healthy and equitable society.  At the same time, we recognize that should a disaster occur, the human services sector, in combination with government, is well positioned to reduce suffering and help affected New Yorkers rapidly recover, and that by preparing in advance we can maximize the effectiveness of our efforts.

AN ANTIDOTE TO NYC'S AFFORDABLE HOUSING SHORTAGE:

EMPOWER NONPROFITS AS DEVELOPERS AND OPERATORS

In the struggle to determine whether New York City will remain home to a mixed population and not continue the trend toward accommodating the affluent in favor of low-and middle-income people, the dearth of affordable housing looms as a crucial and defining issue.

For so long the City was a magnet for people of high aspirations from all backgrounds.  Immigrants, students, artists and entrepreneurs arrived here with confidence that they could secure a decent and affordable dwelling and that opportunity to gain social and financial capital lay ahead.  And they contributed to the City an unmistakable creative and contagious energy.

But the price of market-rate housing in the large majority of Manhattan has become prohibitive for all but the highest wage-earners and a rapid wave of gentrification continues to sweep neighborhoods in other boroughs -- both deterring newcomers without financial wherewithal and threatening to displace long-time lower-income locals.

Policy-makers consistently recognize the dilemma and pledge to rectify it, and the current and most recent former Mayor put forth what they characterized as comprehensive affordable housing plans. 

But the shortage persists and it appears to be worsening:  an estimated 54% of City residents are rent-burdened, meaning 30% or more of their income is expended on rent; and there has been a 45% increase in homelessness since 2012, not even including the increasing number of those residing on the streets and not in homeless shelters.

So what is awry with the City’s affordable housing programs?

In too many cases, these projects include a large portion of market rate housing, and those units termed affordable are, actually, unaffordable for low-income New Yorkers. 

This is occurring because government engages with for-profit developers to lead the majority of projects, and increasing the number of affordable units and lowering rents would mean relinquishing profits.

A prime such situation is currently at question in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Jabari Brisport, a Green Party candidate for the 35thh City Council District, is seeking a solution that upholds the interests of the community.

City government identified public land called the Bedford Union Armory as a site for affordable housing development and selected the for-profit development firm BFC Partners to orchestrate the project.  The 138,000-square-foot facility is slated to be converted into 330 rentals, 60 condos, and a recreation center -- but only half the rentals and 20% of the condos are designated for below market rates.

In response to a recent press conference at which advocates and elected officials expressed resistance to the arrangement, the developer released a statement indicating that“…the economic realities of cross-subsidizing a new rec center and the lack of housing subsidies mean that 50 percent affordability is the only option currently available at the Armory.”

But Brisport and community activists counter that there is indeed another option:  instead of engaging a for-profit developer, the City should place the site into a Community Land Trust, through which local residents and housing experts would form a community-controlled, publicly-funded nonprofit that would steward the site.  Without the need to generate profit, Brisport says the housing could be made entirely and genuinely affordable, and that this model should be spread across the City.

In fact, there are numerous nonprofits with the ability and desire to develop and operate housing for low-income people, but since public systems are not sufficiently disposed to supporting them, playing this role requires of nonprofits a mammoth and highly complex effort. 

City government contracts with nonprofits in the amount of approximately $5 billion annually to provide a range of services intended to achieve social and economic equity – among them child care, afterschool programs, employment training, English classes for immigrants, mental health services and foster care. 

So why, in the case of so-called affordable housing, are for-profit developers so frequently entrusted by City government?  Of course this relates to the fact that many developers are politically connected and contribute generously to the campaign funds of politicians.

But we cannot permit an over-zealous capitalism and a politics infected by money to dictate housing policy, and to allow for the suffering of so many of our neighbors, and for the character of our City to be stripped.  

Private developers are generating handsome profits from market-rate projects. 

Let us empower nonprofits to manage affordable housing.

NYC COMPTROLLER AFFIRMS HSC'S LONG-HELD POSITION

Overhead Rates in City Government Contracts Are Inadequate and Injurious

Among HSC’s most critical charges is remedying the chronic underfunding by government of human services – and increasing the rates at which City and State agencies reimburse human services providers for overhead, also known as “indirect expenses,” is among our highest priorities.

With our advocacy partners, we have researched this matter, gathered data that makes the case, and sought relief from government – and while there remains a significant distance toward resolving the issue, we are gratified to have found allies and achieved incremental progress.

We applaud Comptroller Stringer for undertaking an independent study of the issue, and for recently releasing a report that arrives at conclusions similar to our own: that, based on a sizable sample, the average overhead reimbursement rate extended by City agencies to human services provided is 8.6%; that this percentage is considerably below the actual overhead rate of most providers; and that, as a result, “non-profits are severely hobbled and many vulnerable New Yorkers are deprived of high-quality, critical services.”

Severely hobbled, indeed. No organization can fulfill its promise without sound management and infrastructure and this is certainly the case with nonprofit human services providers.  For services on the ground to achieve the desired effect, they must be supported by high-caliber financial management, human resources, information technology, facilities management, and research and evaluation functions.

To illustrate briefly, afterschool programs cannot help youth excel and forge paths to college without support in recruiting the dozens of specialists that typically staff these programs and serve as mentors and sources of inspiration for young people.  Senior centers, early childhood education facilities, mental health clinics, and supportive housing programs cannot meet their demanding missions if they are contending with the likes of leaky roofs or faulty HVAC systems. And, given that virtually all workplaces are highly dependent on e-mail, cell phones, and the Internet, no professional in any program can be productive without sophisticated technological support.

And, very simply, 8.6% does not cover these expenses. While overhead rates differ across the human services sector depending on variables like organizational size and content of program portfolios, we estimate that the average overhead rate is 15%. That means that an organization receiving $5 million in City contracts automatically incurs a deficit of about $320,000. This is a difficult and, for many human services organizations, an untenable way to operate. But because these organizations are deeply dedicated to service, they continue to accept these terms.  This is an unfair and, ultimately, a damaging practice, that needs to be rectified.

With the adoption of the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget last week, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council took steps toward accomplishing just that.  They committed $88 million over the next five years to increase overhead rates in City contracts to 10%, and included $17.6 million of that amount in next year’s budget.

Also very significant is that the budget included $22.7 million designated for a Model Budget initiative designed to increase budgets for selected human services programs to reflect the true and full costs of service provision. This initiative can begin to unravel chronic underfunding issues by examining the real costs of programs, addressing the salary disparities between human services staff and staff from government with similar responsibilities and qualifications, and gaining understanding about the true indirect costs associated with running programs and contracting with government.  Programs involved in this effort are services for families dealing with instability, senior centers, services for runaway and homeless youth, and adult protective services, and plans are to extend this practice to additional programs in the upcoming two Fiscal Years.

These investments mean an improvement for human services organizations, and the acknowledgment of the issue by City government leaders is reason for optimism that further gains lie ahead.

HSC will continue to keep this issue atop our agenda to ensure that human services organizations are positioned to help New Yorkers surmount barriers, realize aspirations and contribute to a truly equitable City.

THE HUMAN SERVICES COUNCIL STRENUOUSLY ENDORSES NYC AS A SANCTUARY CITY...And Will Vociferously Resist Federal Funding Cuts to Human Services

Among Donald Trump’s first acts as US President was to direct NYC and other local governments to pursue the deportation of undocumented immigrants with records of minor criminal offenses – and he signed an Executive Order decreeing that cities that do not comply, and that declare themselves Sanctuary Cities, will be stripped of federal funding.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill responded swiftly and forcefully -- asserting that NYC will indeed be a Sanctuary City, and that undocumented immigrants will not be harassed, and that they will continue to be treated as full citizens.

HSC applauds these City government leaders for rebuffing Trump’s inhumane policy directive and blustery threat and for standing firmly alongside undocumented New Yorkers.  Supporting immigrants and refugees has historically been among HSC’s priorities, and many organizations within our membership advocate on behalf of the population and offer them such services as English-for-Speakers of other languages, employment assistance, early childhood education and afterschool programs.

The details regarding Trump’s Executive Order that would deprive Sanctuary Cities of federal funding are unclear, and we are grateful that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal funds unrelated to immigration enforcement activities cannot be denied to localities refusing to adhere to Trump’s plan, and we also appreciate Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to legally contest any effort to strip federal funds from NYC. 

However, we must be vigilant about this matter.  Many human services in NYC are financially supported by federal funds in large amounts.  As examples, these include:  Head Start and Early Head Start, which provide essential early childhood education to children from low-income families and enable their families to work and attend school; Child Welfare services, which help challenged families remain together and support children in the foster care system; and the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs, which help un- and under-employed adults and youth gain access to decent-paying and meaningful jobs.  Also, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), through which more than a half-million New Yorkers receive affordable housing and services, is largely funded by the federal government.

Reductions in funding to these and numerous other programs would have devastating effects upon low-income New Yorkers while also de-stabilizing human services organizations and diminishing quality-of-life for all New Yorkers. 

But we most certainly will not permit our undocumented neighbors to be harmed out of fear for the loss of funding.

Instead, we will partner with leaders from government and from across the human services sector in a massive resistance to simultaneously secure the safety of undocumented immigrants and sustain the City’s human services network – while demonstrating that we will never -- ever -- relinquish our commitment to compassion and justice!

$15 Minimum Wage

Nonprofits Championed A Sorely Needed Boost For Workers –
But the Law Adds to these Organizations’ Financial Challenges

A Missive from Human Services Council and FPWA
Second in a Series

Last year, New York and California adopted the historic $15/hour minimum wage law — an important vehicle for enabling self-sufficiency for workers and a defining symbol of the movement for an equitable economy.

The Human Services Council, FPWA, the Fiscal Policy Institute, and other organizations advocated strenuously for this measure – both out of our belief in its great value for those we serve and because many members of the human services workforce, whose salaries fall below the $15 per hour threshold and struggle financially themselves, would benefit.

These human services workers play vital and indispensable roles, helping low-income children, youth, families, immigrants, and seniors to rise above socioeconomic stresses, achieve stability, and pursue high aspirations. That these human services workers are contending with poverty is unacceptable, and a $15 minimum wage will translate to a meaningful quality-of-life improvement for them.

In New York City, the law will be implemented incrementally, rising to $15 per hour in 2018. To this point, the first installment has been executed, lifting the current minimum wage in the city to $11.50. Throughout the remainder of New York State, the current minimum wage has been raised to between $9.70 and $10 an hour depending on location, with the increase to $15/hour to occur in phases over the upcoming years.

To support the increase for human services workers functioning under City contracts, City government has extended the necessary funds to human services contracts, and City leaders have pledged to continue this practice until the law is fully executed.

But, with the exception of certain Medicaid-funded service providers, State government has not provided funds for the majority of human services workers functioning under State contracts and has not indicated a willingness to do so going forward — a move that has baffled and frustrated human services executives who are compelled to draw the funds from existing – and frequently highly compromised – organizational budgets.

The State has the ability to cover these expenses. Budgeting is a matter of asserting values and making choices and it is long past time that the State prioritized the human services workers and services that enrich our communities. The amount needed to fund the increase this year is $12 million and $25 million next year – sums that represent a mere .000007% and .000015% of the State’s budget this and next year, but that translate into sizable expenses for individual human services organizations. In dozens of interviews and focus groups conducted by Human Services Council, FPWA, and the Fiscal Policy Institute across the State, executives of human services organizations have described the budgetary pressures they continually face. One calculated that eliminating their entire senior management team would cover only a quarter of the increased expense associated with the minimum wage law.

Another factor, unacknowledged by the law, is that to avoid wage compression, human services workers with salaries currently at and above $15 per hour will be due increases and pay scales will need to be adjusted upwards across organizations. While these workers are deserving of raises, the budgets of most human services organizations cannot absorb them while still maintaining the same level of service provision — thereby compounding the difficulties of the unfunded minimum wage increase.

The primary reason for the budgetary dilemmas of human services organizations is chronic and systematic under-funding by government. Government contracts often fail to cover the full cost of services and they rarely provide overhead rates that permit programs to be properly supported by administrative functions. Also critical, government contracts frequently do not provide sufficient funds for the salaries and fringe benefits of human services workers while government employees (and those from the healthcare sector) with comparable responsibilities are far better compensated. This makes it difficult for human services organizations to retain and hire qualified staff, many of whom turn-over to government positions. In too many instances, these factors threaten the quality of services and prevent human services organizations from acting on innovative ideas needed to reverse entrenched problems like high school dropout and homelessness.

State government’s withholding of the funds to cover the minimum wage increase is, then, highly ironic. The law was designed to support low-income people, but shortchanging human services organizations will have the effect of weakening these very entities that government has selected to carry out this mission.

The Human Services Council, FPWA, and Fiscal Policy Institute have created the Restore Opportunity Now campaign, a statewide coalition of over 350 organizations determined to secure greater investments in the human services sector. As Governor Cuomo and members of the State legislature negotiate the State budget, on behalf of our partners, we convey to them this message:

We applaud you for leading the effort nationally to increase the minimum wage. This policy will assist many New Yorkers, and it should serve as a springboard to others that further remedy our skewed economic systems. But if we are to achieve a truly equitable society, the human services sector – the engine for helping people transcend the barriers of class and race – must be entirely supported. It is imperative, then, that the minimum wage for human services workers is fully funded in the State’s 2017-18 budget.

Righting the Historical Undermining of Human Services

A MISSIVE FROM HUMAN SERVICES COUNCIL AND FPWA

The time has arrived for a set of damaging practices to be remedied.

For decades, funding from government to provide human services has fallen well short of covering actual costs – resulting in a continual struggle by human services leaders to operate high-caliber programs, maintain skilled and fairly compensated workforces and exercise strong management functions.

Let us consider major aspects of this dilemma.

            Inadequate Salaries and Salary Disparities     

The budgets of contracts between human services organizations and government frequently do not allow for compensation for staff consistent with responsibilities and necessary qualifications.  This occurs with such positions as early childhood education teachers, social workers, youth development specialists and family counselors.  Ironically, many human services staff, who have dedicated themselves to helping people contending with serious challenges find that they themselves are in need of the same sorts of services they are providing. 

These insufficient salaries and benefits translate to a difficultly in recruiting and retaining high-performing staff, leading to disruptions in care and low morale among staff.  Moreover, in a number of cases, government agencies, hospitals, and universities offer compensation for these sorts of positions that is considerably more generous than that which human services organizations can afford.  Strong applicants continually express an interest in joining the human services field but indicate that given personal financial pressures, they often feel compelled to opt for employment in these other sectors.

            The Under-Funding of Overhead

When contracting with human services organizations, city and state government usually limit the amount of funds that may be expended on overhead, also known as “indirect expenses,” for such functions as financial management, human resources, information technology and facilities management.  The large majority of human services contracts allow for overhead rates of between 8% and 10% -- but actual overhead rates for human services organizations usually range between 12% and 20%.  This results in sizable deficits, compelling human services organizations to function without adequate management capacity and to scramble to raise supplemental funds. 

However, the federal government employs a far more rational approach.  It allows human services organizations, based on review of their financial data, to obtain standard overhead rates that are automatically applied in all cases in which they make use of federal funds.   Human services leaders report that the process by which rates are determined is reasonable, and that receiving reimbursement for overhead that aligns with actual expenses goes far toward enabling high performance and financial stability. 

We are, therefore, calling on the city and state government to adopt the federal practice.  

            Innovation and Impact

Human Services organizations aim to embrace bold ideas and forward thinking. Regrettably, though, because they are so strained by insufficient funding from government they too often lack the wherewithal to engage in innovation. If properly resourced, human services organizations would make use of philanthropic support to incubate, pursue data-driven strategies and ensure superior services.   To achieve the highest impact, human services organizations must be enabled to stop operating in a climate of constant crisis.  Like the people they support, they cannot be expected to thrive while their basic needs go unmet.

            A Renewed Partnership with Government

The relationship between the human services sector and government is symbiotic.  Government calls upon human services organizations to deliver the indispensable services that it itself is not equipped to provide.  And human services organizations are equally dependent on government – indeed, government funds are the primary source of income for most human services organizations, often comprising more than 80% of their budgets.

We believe that public officials making decisions about funding for human services are well intentioned and that we share goals and ideals with them, and that fiscal austerity has been the primary factor limiting investment in the sector.  But we must now address the fact that this practice is injurious:  it jeopardizes the quality of services and the very viability of the organizations entrusted to deliver them, setting up a situation that will result in continuing social problems and increased costs later.

We are pleased that the city and state governments have taken steps to begin strengthening the human services sector.  The city has established a Nonprofit Resiliency Workgroup designed to enable us to arrive collaboratively at solutions and we will take part fully in this effort.   The state has created the Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Improvement program and is refining systems like Grants Gateway, which simplifies the process by which human services organizations engage in contracts with the state.

While these efforts are important, we know there are further opportunities to strengthen human services.  And toward this end, our organizations will be among the primary participants in a campaign called Restore Opportunity Now that will vigorously make the case for key investments and systems improvements in the sector.

We look forward to cooperating with our many partners throughout government and the human services sector to make the critical changes necessary to equip New Yorkers to realize high aspirations and support the organizations that serve them!   

From Nonprofit to Social Purpose: A Minor Awakening

Recently I collaborated with a consulting partner to develop language to describe the practice we are mounting.  Our focus is engaging with nonprofit organizations-- so “nonprofit” was featured in all potential versions of our headline. 

Then I recalled my mild distaste for the term.  In my more than two decades of involvement with such organizations, I have occasionally found myself objecting to the way “nonprofit” suggests the sector should be defined:  in the negative, rather than, affirmatively, based on what it is intended to accomplish – improving society.

What has bothered me vaguely is that we have been conditioned to understand that the primary purpose of professional enterprise is generating profit rather than providing a valuable good or service, allowing for meaningful jobs and servicing communities – and that this attitude prevails to the extent that we label efforts explicitly motivated by humanitarian desires within a profit-minded context.

So in our promotional material, my partner and I replaced “nonprofit” with “social purpose,” a revision that felt satisfying.

While I think institutionalizing this shift would be useful, I introduce this topic not so much to advocate for this measure.   Rather, in a moment of intense political discord and minimal substantive discussion about ideas, policies and visions, I want to highlight our predilection for uncritically accepting, as I did with the term “nonprofit,” conventional language and, more importantly, entrenched social and economic conditions.

As examples, I cite a few issues that I wish would be exhaustively debated, but about which we hear little in the Presidential campaign and through mainstream communications channels:

The annual budget for the US military is $600 billion and this amount equals that of the combined military budgets of the seven countries with the next most sizable military operations -– and this while calls for free public college, universal health care and investments in a green economy are dismissed as unrealistic and met with the refrain:  but where will the money come from?

An estimated 2.2 million or nearly 1% of adult Americans are incarcerated and another approximately 4.7 million American adults are on probation or parole, bringing the ratio of adults involved in criminal justice system to 1:35.  The incarceration rate in the US is the highest of all countries globally; in fact, 4.4% of the world’s population resides in the US while 22% of the world’s prison population is housed here.  And the rate has quadrupled since the 1980s though incidence of violent and property-related crime increased only modestly during this period.   Of those now incarcerated, a considerable portion are Black males having committed drug-related and other low- level offenses -- and the per capita cost of imprisonment is about $80,000 annually, contrasted with the approximately $20,000 it costs to provide formal education for a year.

At the same time, the mega-bank Wells Fargo has admitted to committing systematic fraud upon its customers, and it seems the worst possible outcome for its CEO will be forfeiting a $40 million bonus and being compelled into early retirement, to be accompanied by a $120 million payout.

And in a country in which this sort of massive affluence exists, about 45 million people live in poverty and there is steep opposition to efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

I expect you will infer that I have opinions about these matters -- but the primary purpose of this post is not to express them, but instead to encourage greater awareness about the difficult and complex situations that we ignore or accept without sufficient examination.

Until a couple days ago, I probably uttered “nonprofit” thousands of times while barely considering the profit-centric attitude that the term reinforces.  Far more significantly, I recognize that it is only in recent years that I have begun to develop a measure of sophisticated consciousness about environmental matters and that as a younger person my understanding about racism, economic disparity and homophobia was less developed than it is today.  And I expect that I remain oblivious to many important matters – and that I am not alone in this condition.

To pry ourselves from ignorance and complacency, we should hold political leaders, media executives and others with influence responsible when they retreat to superficial talking points to protect financial interests and powerful positions.  And we ourselves should contend with the discomfort that might arise by venturing outside our material and metaphysical comforts to examine what may be ailing in our midst, to consider whether our society measures to our aspirations, and whether we are called to adjust our stations within it.

Converting the term “nonprofit” to “social purpose” is a minuscule initiative.  But maybe the mind-set behind it can serve us.