Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1091 Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:06:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings mmv hearing john mccarten city council

Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


[Note: this article has been updated based on fluctuations in the City Council calendar]

A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.

More than a dozen oversight hearings are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 19 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.

At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.

Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.

The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.

A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.

“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails. "There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.

The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.

“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”

The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. The hearing, set for December 5, will discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right, Torres said. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.

The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

In response to the DOI report and fallout, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.

The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.

On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.

"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”), the third-annual “School Diversity Accountability Act” report (just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced plan for District 1 and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.

"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.

An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 Census data estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to report released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.

The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.

“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.

Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 included discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.

The hearing was co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.

“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Also on the City Council calendar is an oversight hearing that took place Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.

Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette prior to the hearing, which his committee hosted in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.

On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare held an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”

Other scheduled oversight hearings, some of which have now occurred, include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers”; the technology committee on "MODA's Data and Verification Plan"; the housing committee on "Housing Development Fund Corps. (HDFCs) & Transparency"; the environmental protection committee on "The City’s Wastewater Infrastructure – Current Condition and Future Plans"; the economic development committee on "Economic Impact of Vacant Storefronts"; and a few others. 

(Note: be sure to re-check the Council calendar as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)

(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)

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by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings Sun, 19 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Just Ahead of Oversight Hearing, City Announces Ethnic Media Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6120:just-ahead-of-oversight-hearing-city-announces-ethnic-media-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6120:just-ahead-of-oversight-hearing-city-announces-ethnic-media-plan Menchaca rally el diario

Council Member Menchaca at Wednesday's rally (photo: Samar Khurshid)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito launched on Wednesday an online directory of ethnic and community media and a new effort for city agencies to work with those outlets. The push to expand outreach and public messaging across different languages and communities comes as El Diario, the country's oldest non-English daily newspaper, and other ethnic publications are struggling.

The timing of the announcement raised a few eyebrows - it came barely an hour before an oversight hearing of the Council's immigration committee on ways the city can support ethnic and community media. Critics have said that the city is not doing enough to advertise and communicate with such outlets.

New York has about 95 ethnic newspapers with a combined circulation of 2.9 million people, more than one-third of the city's population. Combined, there are nearly 200 outlets across television, digital, print, and radio covering more than 30 languages. But, in the past, city government has largely relied on English-language publications. A 2013 report from the CUNY School of Journalism found that only 18 percent of the city's advertising budget in Fiscal Year 2012 went to ethnic media, while the rest went to mainstream outlets such as the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post.

According to a press release from Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito, the city will create "a system to ensure accountability with the aim of having equitable communications across diverse ethnic, racial and geographic communities. The Mayor and Speaker will convene community-based journalists in the coming weeks to discuss these efforts."

The online directory was a collaborative six-month effort, a city official stated. It involved the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Mayor's Office of Operations, the City Hall Press Office, the City Council Speaker's Office and the CUNY School of Journalism. MOIA will now work with these other offices to update and maintain the online database.

"MOIA's executive director of Language Access works to implement citywide tools, training, and reporting mechanisms in regards to language access, including ethnic and community media outreach," the official said.

The new strategy also includes annual reporting of agency budgets on advertising through ethnic media to help the city improve on its record. "In the city of immigrants, no person should be denied access to vital services or information due to their language," said Mayor de Blasio in the announcement. Pointing to the fact that nearly one out of six New York City households are proficient in languages other than English, he said, "Today we are ensuring that the City speaks the language of our people."

Under Mayor de Blasio, there has been a shift towards multilingual outreach campaigns, particularly for large city initiatives. The campaign for the city municipal identification program, IDNYC, spent $340,000 on ethnic and community media, which was 64 percent of total print ad buys. These ads were featured in 32 publications, covering 10 languages.

The Department of Consumer Affairs made similar efforts, spending 27 percent of ad money for the paid sick leave campaign on ethnic media, and 37 percent on ethnic media to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit.

"Government has a responsibility to engage diverse media equitably so that we can communicate with a wide range of constituents," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is a native of Puerto Rico and bilingual, in a statement, adding that this would make for a more "inclusive city."

The timing of the announcement was not lost on City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who, at the oversight hearing, wanted to make sure that his colleague and immigration committee chair Carlos Menchaca received the credit he was due for pushing this discussion. "If it wasn't for this hearing, I don't think that announcement would have come out today," Reynoso said.

Council members, advocates and journalists held a rally before the hearing, where some held signs that said "Save El Diario."

At the hearing, Reynoso questioned Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal on whether IDNYC was the exception to the rule in the city's engagement with ethnic media. "Money is what talks," he said, insisting that the city has so far come up short on this front.

The numbers appear to back that up.

A joint report from the offices of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer, released specifically for the hearing, analyzed the city's advertising spending from Fiscal Years 2013-2015. It found that the city contracted with three ad firms to spend roughly $20 million through 954 publications over the three years. Only $2.5 million went to 37 ethnic media outlets. These ads included job listings as well as legal notices and public campaigns. In fiscal year 2015, the city spent $7.28 million on advertising, of which $1.3 million or 18.91 percent went to ethnic publications. While this number was up from 7.87 percent in FY2013, it is only marginally better than FY2012.

Based on these numbers, the report recommended that the city should review the performance of existing ad contracts, clearly define ethnic publications to avoid inadvertent exclusion, consider adding new vendors to target specific communities, and objectively evaluate how ad agencies spend money based on a publication's readership and circulation.

MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, in response to Council Member Reynoso, made the point that the uptick in advertising through ethnic media was part of a broader initiative, one that showed its success in the IDNYC and other campaigns.

The announcement by the city was welcomed by advocates and journalists. "A significant portion of New Yorkers depend on ethnic and community media as a source of news and information," said Jehangir Khattak, co-director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. "By providing city agencies with this media resource, the city will better connect with immigrant communities across the five boroughs."

Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which includes more than 200 community-based and immigrant direct service organizations across the state, said that ethnic media outlets "are lifelines for immigrants who learn about programs and policies that impact them in their own languages first." Choi praised the new directory, calling it "a vital tool for city government, agencies, and community organizations to strengthen their connections to the reporters and journalists who are at the frontlines of immigrant issues and who will ensure that our communities are fully informed."

Gotham Gazette reported on Monday about the impending immigration committee oversight hearing where local journalists, non-profit groups, academics, and union representatives also testified. Council Member Menchaca is leading the "fact-finding mission" and hopes to formulate additional policy recommendations from today's testimony. "We need the press," Menchaca told Gotham Gazette earlier this week, "to be able to talk about how we're opening the doors of government to different communities."

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Just Ahead of Oversight Hearing, City Announces Ethnic Media Plan Wed, 27 Jan 2016 16:57:52 +0000
At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6086:at-hearing-on-hunger-council-presses-de-blasio-administration-on-snap-participation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6086:at-hearing-on-hunger-council-presses-de-blasio-administration-on-snap-participation lander menchaca hunger

CMs Lander, left, and Menchaca confer on Wednesday (photo via @NYCCouncil)


At an oversight hearing Wednesday about the city's efforts to fight hunger, members of the City Council general welfare committee questioned a panel of de Blasio administration officials about key city programs. Council members asked about participation in the Supplement and Nutritional Assistance Program (also known as “SNAP” or “food stamps”), Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) efforts, and other components of anti-hunger services.

About 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5 percent of the population - are food insecure, according to data from the 2015 NYC Food Metrics Report. And as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy group, has found, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 were employed (2012-2014). Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

Participation in SNAP for eligible New Yorkers has decreased under Mayor Bill de Blasio, as it did under his predecessor. Though approximately 1.7 million New Yorkers received SNAP assistance as of this past November, Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg estimates that around 500,000 people in the city are eligible but not enrolled.

“It seems that the reduction in benefits by the federal government is probably one of the largest reasons for why there has been a decrease in SNAP participation,” Human Resources Administration Chief Program Officer Lisa Fitzpatrick said at the Council hearing Wednesday.

Representatives from HRA, the city agency that handles the benefits, testified that the city is only aware of the SNAP participation rate among eligible senior citizens. It was calculated by using information from the Benefits Data Trust and Medicaid rolls. That number - 50 percent as of 2014 - may have increased because of a senior citizens outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration to get more eligible seniors signed up for food stamps.

Why HRA does not collect similar data about the larger population and food stamp participation was a question raised at Wednesday’s hearing.

City Council Member Brad Lander, a member of the committee, asked administration reps how good the city can make its understanding of the “universe” of eligible New Yorkers not receiving SNAP.

“The strategy has been less about ‘Can we get an actual concrete number?’” Barbara Turk, the food policy director in the mayor’s office, said. Turk proceeded to explain ways in which SNAP eligible people are engaged and encouraged to apply, such as during interviews from city workers on related subjects.

Though much relevant data is released in the city’s annual Food Metrics Report, the number of New Yorkers eligible for SNAP that aren’t receiving it is not.

“The question isn’t ‘Are we working hard?’” Lander asked. “The question is do we have the tool for evaluating how that’s going?”

“And I understand why it’s complicated,” Lander continued, “but I’ll be honest, it sounds like for a range of sensible reasons, you really don’t.”

Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee, expressed similar concern when the topic came up later in the hearing.

Levin asked if the percentage of senior citizens not receiving SNAP benefits entitled to them changed because of the senior citizen outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration and nonprofit partners in September 2014. Turk said that “it’s a number that moves around a lot” and did not give a concrete answer.

“We want to make sure that it’s working and data should be reflecting the efforts and so we should be able to see the impacts and the trend numbers,” Levin said, mentioning, by contrast, that the city has observed a rise in high school graduation. “I think a good way to know how this program is working is whether or not that number is going up to 52 percent, or 53 percent or 55 percent.”

HRA emergency food assistance, SNAP enrollment outreach to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, and other topics related to city policy on hunger were also discussed at the hearing. After the panel of de Blasio administration representatives, advocates from the Coalition Against Hunger, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, and other organizations testified. Advocates added depth to the severity of the problem being outlined at the hearing and largely said that they were supportive of HRA Commissoiner Steve Banks' leadership.

It is possible that the SNAP participation rate could soon increase thanks to a change in state policy: one of the proposals included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State budget book, released on Wednesday, would raise the state’s Gross Income Test for SNAP eligibility from 130 percent to 150 percent of the poverty line. This would make the benefits available to 750,000 households that previously could not get them, according to the budget book estimate.

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by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation Thu, 14 Jan 2016 03:36:21 +0000
Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6082:council-to-assess-hunger-problem-city-efforts-to-reduce-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6082:council-to-assess-hunger-problem-city-efforts-to-reduce-it de blasio food thanksgiving

Mayor de Blasio serving food (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The City Council’s Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on hunger in New York City on Wednesday morning at City Hall.

Council Member Stephen Levin, the chair of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette he and his colleagues want to get a broad assessment of hunger in the city, as well as specifics related to de Blasio administration efforts to mitigate the problem, which is the result, in large part, of high poverty rates.

At the hearing, Levin added, the committee would review increasing and decreasing barriers to the federally funded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (otherwise known as SNAP or “food stamps”), SNAP enrollment, the status of food pantries, state hunger programs, and other components.

“We want to hear what initiatives this administration is taking,” Levin said. “We’re eager to hear what recommendations they’re able to put forward and hear...what they’re working on.”

Under Commissioner Steven Banks, Mayor de Blasio’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) has increased SNAP access, eased work requirements for agency clients, and enacted several other reforms. De Blasio also expanded the “breakfast after the bell” program for all public elementary schools, which advocates praised while recommending universal free school lunch.

Still, hunger remains a harsh reality for many New Yorkers.

As of last November, HRA was providing nutritional assistance to 1,686,941 New Yorkers, 45,406 fewer than a year before. In addition to the food stamps, one in five New Yorkers are assisted by the Food Bank of New York City, the major hunger relief organization that receives funding from the city, which reported in a recent survey of its agencies “that they had run out of food, or particular types of food, needed to make adequate meals or pantry bags” last September.

Continuing a decline that began under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, SNAP participation in the city has gone down under de Blasio. According to New York City Coalition Against Hunger executive director Joel Berg, a main cause of the decline is federal divestment of half a billion dollars in New York City SNAP funds.

“The amount of the benefits decreased and the caseloads decreased,” said Berg, who estimates that about 500,000 New Yorkers are eligible for nutritional assistance but don't receive it. “And so, there’s no question that lower benefit levels do also reduce participation.”

Lisa Levy, Coalition Against Hunger’s director of policy, advocacy and organizing, will testify at Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of the organization, Berg said.

Because SNAP is federally funded, the City Council is limited in actions it can take on nutritional assistance policy. “We have been investing more resources in food pantries through the Food Bank of New York City,” Council Member Ritchie Torres, a member of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette. “But as with many issues, we are hamstrung by a Congress in Washington that is disinvesting, ever more deeply, in the city.”

Though New York City’s employment has recovered from the recession, Berg insists that this has not translated to reduced hunger. “The lines of pantries and kitchens are still as long as ever,” he said.

According to research from Coalition Against Hunger, many food insecure New Yorkers do indeed work. The group found that between 2012-2014, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 worked. While significant minimum wage raises being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others would likely reduce that number if enacted, there could be an unintended consequence of the wage hike for New Yorkers receiving nutritional assistance.

Berg, while praising the wage hikes, does worry that, “In some cases, particularly with single people, the amount of SNAP benefits they lose could exceed the value of the wage increase,” said Berg, who has advocated for raising the income level needed to receive food stamps to expand eligibility.

Council Member Levin indicated that he would look into the wage hike issue. “It’s hard to kind of predict, and I think you’d have to kind of drill down on the individual case and really that individual and that family’s situation,” he said. “But certainly, it’s something that we should be asking about.”

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by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been updated.

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Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It Mon, 11 Jan 2016 22:22:40 +0000
Hearing Will Examine Pay for Workers Serving City’s Most Vulnerable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5960:hearing-will-examine-pay-for-workers-serving-citys-most-vulnerable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5960:hearing-will-examine-pay-for-workers-serving-citys-most-vulnerable rosenthal contracts alatriste

Council Member Rosenthal (photo: William Alatriste)


For six years, a particular group of workers employed through contracts with the city, and filling important roles, saw their wages stagnate. In May of this year, however, Mayor de Blasio announced that his Executive Budget for the 2016 fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2015, would provide a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment increase and an $11.50 per hour wage floor for some of New York City's human services providers - workers who staff senior centers, homeless shelters, foster care agencies, and more.

Though the wage adjustments have been hailed as a much-needed step and heralded as part of the mayor’s equity agenda, an upcoming City Council oversight hearing will explore the process for implementing them and ways in which wages can be raised even further.

On Monday morning, Council members and advocates intend to discuss ways to raise the wages of a human services workforce that is increasingly in need of the types of provisions and programs - such as food stamps - that they help provide for others. One aspect of this is ensuring that the mayor’s promise materializes, part of the impetus behind the hearing, according to Contracts Committee Chair Helen Rosenthal, one of two City Council members who will preside over the hearing - which comes five months after de Blasio’s announcement.

Previewing the hearing, Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette, “It’s truly an opportunity for the administration to explain how they’re implementing this policy goal and I think we’ll learn a lot of critical details and answers to questions we've been asking for the last few months."

Mayoral spokesperson Amy Spitalnick told Gotham Gazette in a statement that "The City is actively working with the non-profit service provider community and the appropriate City agencies to ensure that implementation covers all the intended employees and programs, and that it is done in an efficient manner that doesn’t place any undue burden on providers. It will be retroactive to July 1."

Human services nonprofit organizations, which employ these workers and contract with the city, have seen years of cuts in funding. The wage floor and cost of living adjustment announced by de Blasio came much to the relief of the sector’s many low-wage workers, Michelle Jackson, associate director and general counsel of the Human Services Council, a coalition of nonprofit human service providers, told Gotham Gazette.

"Our workforce has been chronically underfunded for years. During the recession, there was divestment, and [prior to this year] we hadn't seen a reinvestment since the recession. Since 2010, there had been about $1 billion in cuts to human services across the state," Jackson said.

"I think there’s a misperception that people who work for nonprofits do it as volunteer work - these are crucial services that government is not providing, that they have contracted out to nonprofits," Jackson explained. "Looking at state and city cost of living adjustments over the last few years up until this year, human services workers have been forgotten about. We’re about 15 percent of the state’s workforce, and it's the government’s job to make sure that human services workers are compensated fairly because they are employed through contracts."

These human services workers provide a range of critical programs to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations, including in foster care, senior services, early childhood education, after-school programs, homeless shelters, job training and placement, and community health services. Nonprofit organizations on human services contracts delivered about $2.3 billion in services to New York City in fiscal 2015, according to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.

On Monday, November 2, the City Council Committee on Contracts, in conjunction with the Committee on Community Development, will hold an oversight hearing to evaluate the administration's progress in implementing the policy change and allocating funding for the wage floor and the cost of living adjustment.

Council Member Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette that she expects representatives of the de Blasio administration to come to the hearing "with a clean and easy-to-understand explanation of how the money is being allocated. We want to find out which agencies and which programs within each agency is being affected, how many employees are getting the increase, and what the cost is per program.”

Although the mayor set aside a certain amount of money in the budget to pay for the wage adjustments, Rosenthal explained, "the budget did not dictate exactly which agencies and which contracts and which programs would get that pay increase. So, it's my understanding that what's been happening over the last three or four months is that city has been collecting information from contract service providers about the workers they have, the titles, and how much they’re currently being paid in order to now allocate the lump sum of money to the specific agencies."

Allocating the funds can be a complicated process, given that in Fiscal Year 2015, eight City agencies, including the Department of Youth and Community Development, the Administration for Children's Services, and the Department of Homeless Services, registered 16,524 contract actions, according to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. In the human services industry, those contracts are awarded to vendors, predominantly nonprofits, for the purpose of providing programs such as day care, housing and shelter assistance, and counseling services.

The 2.5 percent increase for approximately 35,000 of the city's 125,000 contracted human services workers and the wage floor for roughly 10,000 social services employees fall short of salary adjustments advocates were pushing for, but are still generally viewed as a significant step in the right direction.

"It really is a crucial first step and shows a real commitment from the mayor in investing in human services workers," Jackson told Gotham Gazette.

Going forward, human services advocates plan to push for continued investment into the sector. "We want to see the cost of living adjustment systematized so it's not the case that every five years, groups have to advocate for one," Jackson said, "there should be consistency in how cost-of-living adjustments are applied for nonprofits."

Rosenthal said she also hopes the hearing will "help to give us a sense of how much money it would cost to get these workers up to $15 an hour. As we understand that, we can start to advocate for that increase in the budget for next year - I think we'll learn a lot more about the details of getting us there from this hearing."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently come out in support of a statewide $15 hourly minimum wage for all workers, calling for the wage to be phased in by 2019 in New York City and by 2021 across the state. The move is part of a nationwide push to raise the minimum wage, as cities like Seattle ($15 by 2021), Los Angeles ($15 by 2020), San Francisco ($15 by 2018), and Chicago ($13 by 2019) have passed legislation to phase in a minimum wage increase.

Just last week, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner increased the minimum wage for the city's employees to $15 an hour. The raise affects about 69 employees, including laborers and information aides, some of whom had previously made as little as $8.75 an hour (the state’s current minimum wage), The New York Times reported.

Some have wondered why Cuomo, who said during his minimum wage announcement last month, “every working man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage,” doesn’t lead the way by raising the wages of state employees, more than 15,000 of whom make less than $15 an hour living wage, according to a New York Post review of records kept by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

There is room to ask the same of de Blasio with those on the city payroll or working through city contracts.

Though the human service nonprofit sector would indeed be affected by a statewide minimum wage increase, Jackson told Gotham Gazette, nonprofits under contract with the government would need more funding in order to pay their employees higher wages since, unlike businesses, human service nonprofits cannot simply raise the price of their services to cover the costs of paying their employees more. "We would need the increase to be covered in contracts. The government would need to pay that," Jackson said, explaining that when Mayor de Blasio wanted human services workers to have a higher wage floor, for example, he increased funding for contracts in order to pay for that increase.

Human services workers are not the only ones who would benefit from higher wages. Research has shown that higher wages sharply reduce employee turnover. “We [human services workers] have a very high turnover rate,” Jackson said. “There’s a consequence of that turnover rate on the people in need of services. You want to retain talented workers. These are people who do really important jobs in the community - taking care of your children, your parents, people with mental health issues and substance abuse problems.”

Raising the wages of human services workers by increasing funding in the human service nonprofit sector would contribute to the city’s efforts to reduce homelessness and inequality, since outreach programs, supportive housing, drop-in centers, and other programs are more successful with greater consistency and quality of service.

“These are workers who basically work for the city,” Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette. “The city is having these workers provide services for our residents, whether it's in homeless services, senior services, or as caregivers. I think it’s critical that we pay our workers $15 an hour, and for many years, these workers have languished without any salary increases.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13
@GothamGazette

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Hearing Will Examine Pay for Workers Serving City’s Most Vulnerable Fri, 30 Oct 2015 01:29:13 +0000