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Opinion

Don’t Pass a State Budget Without Investment in Human Services


bronxworks workers

(photo via @UNHNY)


Poverty-related issues such as homelessness or family crisis treatment like opioid addiction need more than a simple infusion of cash. Addressing the underlying issues and building community resilience requires long-term, community-based organizations dedicated to ensuring that families and individuals have access to local programs that address the stability of their communities.

State government appreciates this expertise as it contracts with human service organizations to deliver programs on its behalf, but government leaders fail to provide the funding necessary to fully support the organizations’ long-term stability. Unfortunately, state contracts rarely cover the full cost of human services, which has resulted in a chronically underfunded sector with crumbling infrastructure and an undercompensated workforce. The absence of adequate funding directly undermines the long-term stability of this sector, which undermines the short- and long-term stability of its workforce and clients.

Employees in the nonprofit human services sector are poorly compensated, despite their experience and education — 41% percent have a four-year college degree and another 25% have some college education. As a result, these dedicated workers often find themselves relying on government benefits to support their own families. Low wages drain talent from our sector as the workers with experience move on to find jobs that provide better compensation. Employee turnover undermines human services programs, which are best served by a stable workforce, whose members earn the trust of their clients and can most effectively help them.

The human services sector vigorously supported Governor Cuomo’s efforts to increase the minimum wage, but we were disappointed when our sector’s contracts were never adjusted by the state to fund the wage increases for human services employees. Unlike for-profit businesses, nonprofit human service organizations cannot increase the cost of their services to pay for higher wages. These increased wages must be paid for by the state.

The governor and state Legislature are currently negotiating the new budget for the state fiscal year that beings on April 1. We have joined a statewide coalition of 350 nonprofit human services providers, Strong Nonprofits for a Better New York, in order to call on the state to make key investments to strengthen the human services sector.

One of our key requests is that the state fund the minimum wage for human service contracts, so that we can provide much-needed salary increases for this workforce.

Outdated infrastructure is also a major concern among nonprofit organizations.

Building repairs and technology upgrades are not included in contracts, yet are essential to running quality programs. The state created the Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Investment Program (NICIP) to address this issue, but, unfortunately, current funding levels are not sufficient to support current needs. Hundreds of nonprofits have applied for a very limited number of grants and we call on state leaders to add funding to NICIP to support these outstanding grant applications.

Without these critical investments in our workforce and capital for our facilities, nonprofit human services organizations will be forced to serve fewer families, children, immigrants, and older adults in the coming year. The New York State Assembly has included these items in its budget priorities and now we need the governor and the State Senate to support funding the minimum wage and continuing to fund infrastructure.

Without this investment it will be our communities that ultimately suffer.

***
Susan Stamler is the Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses, an association of settlement houses that reaches more than 750,000 New Yorkers each year. On Twitter @UNHNY.

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Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope


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Eric Ulrich, the author, right, and Cardinal Dolan (photo: @eric_ulrich)


In the coming months, the city and state education departments are expected to rule on an issue that may have huge repercussions for parental school choice and religious freedom. A small group of former yeshiva graduates have alleged that religious schools in Orthodox Jewish communities are failing to provide adequate education to students. As an avid supporter of parental choice, I worry education leaders will side with these critics, posing a threat to private schools well beyond the Jewish community.

Many years ago, I attended P.S. 63, an elementary school in Queens. My mother, a single parent and devout Catholic, made the decision to transfer me to the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, a Catholic elementary school. She wholeheartedly believed Catholic school was a better environment for me at the time – and it was. Appreciative of the opportunities Catholic school afforded me, I continued my religious education at Cathedral Prep Seminary High School.

As the product of both public school and Catholic school education, I recognize the importance of parental school choice. The values instilled in me through my religious upbringing and education paved the way for my career as a public servant. Attending Catholic school ignited my passion for helping people; and at one point in my life, I seriously contemplated becoming a priest. If my mother did not have the freedom to enroll me in the school of her choice, I might not have taken the path I’ve taken, which I have found extraordinary fulfilling.

During my time in office, I have visited many yeshiva schools. In each of those visits, I saw a vibrant atmosphere. It is clear to me the Orthodox community takes education seriously. The school day begins just after sunrise, and the majority of yeshiva students study long after they are dismissed. Their studies are deeply rooted in the Torah and Talmud, which encourage discussion and debate at a very young age. Their studies focus heavily upon religious and legal texts, and teachers employ a method of Socratic dialogue with students more commonly found at law schools. That may not be a familiar experience for graduates of traditional secular schools, but tens of thousands of parents choose these schools each year because yeshivas have served them – and their families – well for generations.

The narrow issue before officials is whether these yeshivas are adhering to a vague state regulation requiring private schools to provide a substantially equivalent education to that of public schools. What that means in practice is enormously subjective; private and religious schools throughout the state are awaiting the results of a looming “clarification” from the State Education Department with deep trepidation.

Government officials are being subjected to a pressure campaign by anti-yeshiva activists, who continuously attack the Orthodox Jewish community under the guise of educational quality. We must continue to protect freedom of religion and the rights of parents to send their children to religious schools – whether they are Catholic, Islamic, or Jewish. If we do not stand-up for yeshivas today, the future of other private schools may be next.

***
Eric Ulrich is a City Council member representing parts of Queens. On Twitter @eric_ulrich.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

 

I’m a NYCHA Resident Who Supports Private Investment in Public Housing


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(photo: @NYCHA)


After a harsh winter during which hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents suffered without heat and hot water at one time or another, many people across our city have been asking a simple question: do public housing residents deserve the same quality of life as everyone else?

The answer is obvious: of course we do. Better yet, there is a clear path to make that a reality, and soon.

The fact is that just a miniscule fraction of New Yorkers living in public housing enjoy the benefits of private management and well-funded maintenance operations. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens do not – and they are bearing the burden of a system that faces a $25 billion deficit, with little hope for anywhere near enough federal funding on the horizon.

Around 320,000 of those residents went without heat or hot water at certain points this winter, often during the coldest stretches – and now New York must take action to ensure that this cannot happen again. Public-private partnerships will improve the living conditions of NYCHA families, and it is time for more of those agreements. Not next year, not in two years, not in three years. Now.

It is no secret that urging public-private partnerships for NYCHA is politically challenging – and I was once skeptical of these arrangements myself. But if that kind of collaboration means being able to ensure that every NYCHA family has heat when they most need it – and let’s be clear that this is exactly what is at stake here – then public-private partnerships are not a problem, as some critics have said, but are instead part of a solution.

I am a resident leader of a NYCHA building that has already benefited from this kind of work. I have firsthand understanding of the type of progress that is possible from these partnerships. Simply put, I am living in a success story every day, but my heart is breaking for the hundreds of thousands of residents still struggling underneath the weight of a broken system.

In 2014, NYCHA engaged in a public-private partnership at several Section 8 developments across the five boroughs – totaling nearly 900 homes including my building, Campos Plaza I – because of the potential benefits it could provide for families. Despite what skeptics said at the time, it turns out that they were absolutely right.

This winter, our building had the heat and hot water it needed. We got to cook in renovated kitchens. And, this spring, we will enjoy our playgrounds and other open space. Our rents did not increase, and we all feel secure in our homes because we know that NYCHA still has ultimate control of our building and retains the power to remove the private partner should it ever want to do so.

At a time when city funds are stretched so thin and federal funds are unlikely to arrive, these positive changes did not come from the wave of a magic wand. They exist because of resources made available through a public-private partnership that provided the necessary investment in our apartments.

It is, at the end of the day, a really simple concept: when there are not enough public dollars to ensure that NYCHA buildings receive the maintenance and renovations they need, public-private partnerships can fill those gaps and give residents like me a better quality of life.

It was encouraging to see NYCHA move forward on another public-private partnership to leverage private financing at its Ocean Bay complex in Bayside. At that nearly 1,400-unit development, which was battered by Hurricane Sandy and remained in dire need of improvements, the deal generated an additional $560 million in financing for better buildings and new infrastructure. Families in Ocean Bay, too, understand what is at stake.

And of course it goes without saying that NYCHA residents believe that the federal government should invest more in public housing. But the reality today is that we cannot yet expect significant federal dollars to come – and that is simply no reason to deny my fellow residents the same quality of life I get to enjoy.

So, yes, those of us living in public housing do deserve the same quality of life as those living in private housing – but all of us, not just a lucky few. All of us deserve a decent, comfortable home. The tools are out there, it is now up to elected officials to make that a reality by encouraging more private-partnerships across New York City.

***
Dereese Huff is the resident association president at NYCHA’s Campos Plaza I.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]



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