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The Mayor's Plan To "Streamline" Social Services

by Linda Ostreicher, Jun 25, 2003
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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.

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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.

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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 the restructuring.

"I don't get the feeling that the city has put a lot of thought into the restructuring," says City Project's Bonnie Brower.

EMPLOYMENT SERVICES

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.

The restructuring plan would thus give the Human Resources Administration control over who receives several services that are not targeted to welfare recipients.

THE ELDERLY

The 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.

AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS

After-school 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 among providers."

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."

Irma 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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