In the relief at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to restore some of the
cuts he originally proposed to social services, the spotlight has shifted off
proposals that may influence the field long after next year's budget is forgotten.
In his Executive Budget, the mayor proposed to "streamline" city
social services by moving a number of programs from one agency to another.
The best publicized proposal involved reorganizing AIDS services, by folding the
Mayor's Office for AIDS Policy into the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,
and contracting out case management services now done by the HIV/AIDS Services
Administration. After well-organized opposition and civil disobedience,
advocates have approached the City Council about making the AIDS office a permanent
unit of city government.
But there are many other units and services that
will still move from one agency to another under the plan. This restructuring
is meant to save money, but its potential effects on city spending -- as well
as on clients and the local economy -- are unpredictable. Since in New York City,
only one percent of the social service workforce is on the government payroll,
it is the nonprofit social service agencies -- which get nearly two-thirds of
their revenue from government grants and contracts -- that are most worried about
"I don't get the feeling that the city has put
a lot of thought into the restructuring," says City Project's Bonnie Brower.
Under the mayor's plan, the Department
of Employment would be eliminated, and its services transferred to the Human Resources
Administration. Public services are shaped by the agencies that control them.
When job training comes out of a welfare agency, it is managed by a staff used
to making clients prove that they deserve public benefits. This is not the mindset
needed to encourage unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers at every level of
income and education to use job-related services-the mandated use of funding from
the federal Workforce Investment Act, which pays for most job training contracts.
The one exception to this shift is the Summer Youth Employment Program,
which would go to the Department of Youth and Community Development. Providers
of summer youth employment services may prefer dealing with the youth agency to
waiting out the Department of Employment's delays: 96 percent of that agency's
contracts were registered late in 2002.There is a possibility that the city will
decide to move adult employment services to the Department of Business Services
instead, which would demonstrate recognition that a well-prepared workforce is
an economic asset. However, the Department of Business Services managed only $25
million worth of contracts last year, and may not have the capacity to abruptly
add at least four times that amount to its responsibilities.
HUMAN RESOURCES ADMINISTRATION
The Human Resources Administration would take over many
tasks currently performed by other agencies. For example, it would take over substance
abuse services from the Department of Health and Mental Health; would take over
child support enforcement from the Administration for Children's Services; and
would take over the tasks of determining who is eligible for subsidized day care
services, assistance with heating bills, and a home care program.
plan would thus give the Human Resources Administration control over who receives
several services that are not targeted to welfare recipients.
105 senior centers that are located in New York City Housing Authority projects,
about one-fourth of those citywide, would become programs of the Housing Authority,
rather than of the Department for the Aging.
Instead of dealing with the
Department for the Aging, elderly people in need of home care and the Home Energy
Assistance Program would deal with welfare workers, as would low-income working
parents seeking affordable day care.
programs would be transferred to the Department of Youth and Community Development,
from both the Administration for Children's Services and the Department of Education.
If after-school programs move from the Administration for Children's Services,
with only 61 percent of its contracts registered late in 2002, to the Department
of Youth and Community Development, with 86 percent of its contracts registered
late that year, they may face longer delays.
The Department of Youth and
Community Development would have to manage a sharp increase in its volume
of contracts, a prospect advocates find unsettling. The logistics of the after-school
contract transfer are not clear: many providers have one contract covering both
pre-school children -- whose care would remain under the Administration for Children's
Services -- and school-age children, whose care would shift to the youth agency.
"Now they're going to rip out the school-age part of it, and we're not being
told how," says Susan Stamler, of United Neighborhood Houses, whose settlement
house members run a variety of human services. "It's wreaking havoc
Stamler's agency has recommended that the city maintain
the quality and comprehensiveness of any after-school programs transferred, and
develop an orderly process before any transition begins. "We're extremely
concerned about avoiding disruptions during the school year."
Rodriguez of Forest Hills Community House points out that the two agencies operate
differently. "DYCD programs are typically based on a calendar year. ACS is
based on the parents' year. They [ACS] understand the dynamics of working parents
and their schedules."
Amid all the technicalities, the human dimension
of contracted services can be forgotten. Susan Stamler brings the discussion back
to the purpose of city-funded after-school programs: "Parents need to know
their children are getting safe, reliable care that they can get to in their communities."
Anything less will mean streamlining has gone too far. Linda Ostreicher, a former budget analyst for the New York City Council, is a freelance writer and consultant to nonprofits. She is currently on the staff of Bronx Independent Living Services.
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