Mayor de Blasio (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently unveiled his Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Since then, there has been much comment on what the budget includes, notably $100 million for homelessness, and omits, namely funding to hire 1,000 NYPD officers. Nearly absent in budget conversation, though, is the important investment that the city is making in the human service nonprofit sector in the form of a 2.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and an unprecedented $11.50 per hour wage floor.
What makes the investment so vital, and therefore its omission from summary and analysis so glaring, is its connection to the financial and socioeconomic well-being of New York City.
Not only does this de Blasio administration commitment provide a long-absent infusion of city dollars into a sector that provides a range of vital services - from early childhood education, foster care, and after-school programming to case management for homeless individuals and families as well as elder care - it also contributes to the economic well-being of the city and helps address pervasion economic inequality and homelessness.
Investment in the human services nonprofit sector helps to ensure that the city remains on sound financial footing. The sector constitutes a significant economic engine in New York City: there are 116,000 private sector social service workers, not including health care; and the City contracts out $5 billion in critical social services to human service nonprofits each year. Flat funding has made it difficult for these nonprofit organizations to manage amid the rising costs of rent, utilities and health care. For example, this year at Urban Pathways, we endured another double-digit increase in our health care costs for our over 200 employees. City investment reduces the likelihood that additional human services nonprofits experience the precarious financial footing of organizations like Pathways to Housing and FEGS.
Investment also helps address income inequality in New York City - a major focus of the mayor, and rightfully so. Members of the human services nonprofit workforce struggle to make ends meet. The average salary across the workforce is less than $29,000 annually. An astounding 40 percent of social service workers earn below $12 an hour. As a result, workers increasingly seek similar services as their clients, including public housing, food stamps, and soup kitchens. A wage increase thus reduces city expenses in government benefit programs. It also creates revenue in terms of increased tax liabilities.
The COLA and wage floor also constitute vital components of the city's efforts to reduce homelessness. Outreach, drop-in centers, safe havens, and supportive housing succeed, much in part, due to the workers staffing them. Like other human services nonprofits in the city, our organization struggles to retain staff, in part due to our inability to adequately compensate them. (Turnover in some areas of the social services sector has risen to 30% annually.) As a result, our homeless single adult clients incur multiple case managers. This potentially disrupts the trust and comfort our clients develop with their case managers, which is critical to moving them from the street into housing. It also interrupts the continuity in their care and jeopardizes their path to permanent housing and self sufficiency.
Still, there is more work for the city to do. In the next month, the City Council can follow the mayor's lead and make the $11.50 wage floor permanent by adding language to the city charter. Salaries should not return to amounts that do not reward work because of who is in Gracie Mansion.
As a board member, I am proud to dedicate my time and resources to the work of a human service nonprofit organization. Recent city investment in our sector coupled with additional action by the City Council can go a long way towards ensuring the sector continues to do the important work it has done for the city's most vulnerable.
Gary Belsky has been an Executive Board Member of Urban Pathways since 1996, serving as Board President from 2000-06.