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Opinion

Time for the City to Pay Up


Justin Brannan

Justin Brannan, the author (photo: @JustinBrannan)


Talk is cheap. The city needs to pay up.

We have all been impacted by the important work of hundreds of human services providers across the city, many of which are deeply rooted in our communities. These vital non-profit organizations deliver services to New York City’s most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, our children, our grandparents. The clear and powerful impact of this sector makes it easy for politicians to praise the services these non-profits provide — but such talk is cheap if you don’t back it up with action.

The uncomfortable truth is that these crucial organizations are very much at risk and in direct harm at the hands of the same government agencies and elected officials who praise them. How so?

Human services contracts are registered late by city agencies 94% of the time, forcing organizations to make impossible decisions to bridge massive gaps in their funding. Ninety-four percent!

In fact, most city contracts with non-profit human services providers are registered months or even years after these non-profits begin providing the services they cover. While this money is being held up by a broken and opaque contracting system, critical support for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, those living with HIV and AIDS, immigrants, and individuals coping with substance abuse and mental health challenges are put in direct risk.

This is shocking and unacceptable.

A domestic violence shelter cannot close for months while the city gets its act together. Senior centers can’t stop serving daily meals because of a funding gap due to a late payment from the city. Instead, non-profits are forced to front money, taking on costly loans and lines of credit with high rates of interest that are never reimbursed by the city agencies that held up their money up in the first place.

I cannot believe this has somehow become the status quo. It must change.

There are real human and financial consequences if a non-profit doesn’t start its services on time. Not to mention the corresponding challenges for those who work providing these crucial services.

It is time for those responsible for this crisis to step up. Non-profits have borne the brunt of the city’s delays, putting the financial health of their organizations in jeopardy to ensure communities receive critical services. While no contract should ever force a provider to start delivering services before being paid, at the very least non-profits should not bear the cost! Those interest payments must be the responsibility of those at fault and should be paid, in full, by the city, a requirement that would provide a direct incentive to process contracts on time.

It is also important that there is clear public access to data about which city agencies have the longest delays and why contracts are being held up. This information is vital not only to promote accountability but also to seek the needed remedies to this failure.

Contracts and the procurement process may not be the sexiest topic in this city of headlines, but it has an exponentially reverberating effect on the city and how it functions. If we allow this to continue, these compounding late payments to the human services sector will only get worse and soon every neighborhood will suffer the consequences.

As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, I have heard dozens upon dozens of devastating stories about how organizations are impacted by these unnecessary barriers built around them by the city. Talk is cheap. Action is long overdue – we must act now to address this crisis.

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City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn. On Twitter @JustinBrannan.

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After Amazon: Establishing Our Local Pipeline for Future Opportunities


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(photo: LaGuardia Community College, CUNY)


With Amazon’s pronouncement to put the brakes on its plan to bring part of its new headquarters to Long Island City, it’s time to make lemonade out of the many lemons left in the wake.

Amazon’s decision to locate here centered on our city’s ability to get the company the talent it needs to grow. It’s what every company, large and small, needs to thrive.

When Amazon first announced it was coming, one of the first questions raised was: who will benefit? Would the 25,000 jobs help our local community, including the residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing complex, and LaGuardia Community College, where more than 70% of students come from households with incomes of less than $30,000? What kinds of jobs would be open to someone with just a high school diploma, an associate’s, a bachelor’s? Would it be New Yorkers who benefitted, or people recruited from elsewhere in the country and the world?

In my engagement with City, State, and Amazon representatives, it became clear to me that New York (and conceivably many localities) needs a stronger, integrated system that links private and public spheres to educate future employees. Amazon’s proposed campus in Long Island City highlighted the need for that more robust, sustained development of talent pipelines in the fundamental field of tech, especially for people in low-income communities.

The first step is more employers willing to establish long-term partnerships with local colleges and universities so there’s clear understanding of the technical, intellectual, and practical skills needed for job-openings. Without strong employer partnerships, we can’t be certain that our students will be job-ready upon graduation.

We need more companies, especially tech companies, willing to invest in developing local talent by providing paid internships and mentorship opportunities for nontraditional and traditional students alike. We need more collaborations to create job-specific training programs, like one we have with Google to provide training in IT support.

Without far-reaching programs that connect students who are older, poor, or speak English less than well, tech employers will continue relying on the same private and elite-college networks for hiring.

Fledgling progress was being made with Amazon to create pathways to jobs. At the end of January, Amazon announced a collaboration with LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, and SUNY to create a program to train people (with at least a high school diploma) for jobs in cloud computing.

But more than programs, public officials, employers, and educators must convene and nurture the building of an ecosystem that connects the many assets a community can use to establish a collaborative approach. If a community can encircle a potential employee with support and education, and companies can create bona fide paths to employment, there is no limit to the amount of social mobility and community vibrancy that can be created.

LaGuardia Community College knows how well employer-education partnerships can work when it all comes together. Queens resident Matt O’Connor was working full-time packing boxes at a nearby delivery service when he came to LaGuardia to channel his passion for coding. He was offered internship opportunities that grounded his classroom work. Matt first interned at the tech accelerator Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, where he worked with small tech start-ups. His next paid software development internship was at Place Pixel, a company that creates next-generation mapping experiences. It went so well that he was offered a full-time job with an equity share in the company. Matt said it felt miraculous when he was able to quit the package delivery company. Today, he’s a full-time software engineer at the company SevenFifty.

But with better and more targeted resources, we can do even more. We need elected officials to step up and increase the investment in our public colleges: to give us the resources to re-imagine what and how we teach. We need to be able to hire and support full-time faculty who can effectively teach complex material, particularly to a diverse student body. We need the funding to support the collaboration across organizational silos. It’s not just the funding for expanding holistic support like child care, and philanthropy to support transportation, emergency funds, and an on-campus food pantry. It’s also dedicated funding to link the path from the housing projects to training, and from training to college.

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be much analysis of what went right or wrong with the Amazon deal. No matter who declares victory, what Long Island City is left with does little for the low-income and aspiring New Yorkers who remain on the sidelines. Let’s not lose a moment in getting our talent prepared for whatever happens next, whether it’s the next Amazon wanting to locate here or the start-up just beginning to get launched.

Whether you are cheering or bemoaning the crumbling of the agreement, we can all agree those who’ve been historically locked out of job opportunities in the fastest growing industries need more pathways to these good, steady jobs that enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

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Gail O. Mellow is President of LaGuardia Community College. On Twitter @LaGuardiaCC.

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The Right Way to Legalize Surrogacy in New York


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Sital Kalantry, the author (photo: Cornell Law School)


New York State is on the brink of replacing an outdated and prohibitive law that criminalizes the practice of compensated surrogacy, one of only two states that does so. Legislation to reverse the law has been introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, and Governor Cuomo has demonstrated support for it by including it in his Executive Budget.

As a law professor who focuses on gender equity, I’ve taken great interest in issues related to surrogacy in the United States and abroad. I’ve closely reviewed laws in multiple states as well as internationally, and I support New York’s legalization of surrogacy.

When a woman chooses to support a couple or individual by serving as a gestational surrogate (where she is not genetically connected to the child because she did not contribute her egg), I believe she must have the autonomy to do so – provided she is protected by the law to ensure that any power imbalance between her, on the one hand, and the intended parents, surrogacy agencies and doctors, on the other hand, is mitigated.

The proposal the New York Legislature is considering and that Governor Cuomo is advancing, the Child-Parent Security Act, does protect surrogates in many ways. While the bill clarifies the parentage of all children born through third-party reproduction, here I focus only on how it legalizes and regulates gestational surrogacy arrangements.

Protections provided by the bill include: giving the surrogate the sole right to make decisions regarding her own health or that of the fetus or embryo she is carrying; giving the surrogate the sole right to terminate the pregnancy; and ensuring that the surrogate is represented by her own legal counsel. These types of commonsense protections are critical to creating a successful and effective program. If the New York Legislature passed the Child-Parent Security Act, New York’s law would be more protective of women who choose to be surrogates than laws in many other states.

Reexamining current law is long past due as technological advances and changes in acceptance of various family structures have made surrogacy much more commonplace. When lawmakers first implemented a ban on surrogacy in New York in 1992, they did so for several reasons that are less relevant today.

For example, when the restrictive New York law was enacted, there were ethical concerns about what was then nascent medical treatment -- in vitro fertilization (IVF). Today, IVF is commonly-accepted as treatment for infertility and is also used in the gestational surrogacy process.

Despite the ban, today New Yorkers do work with surrogates to build families. They are just required to employ surrogates living in other states. This results in legal challenges, risks, and costs for the intended parents, including confusion regarding what laws are applicable to the situation.   

It’s past time for New York to modernize its laws so that intended parents in New York can work with surrogates in their own state, with laws supporting and protecting both, and for surrogates who want to help intended parents start their family to be able to do so. Just last year New Jersey legalized gestational surrogacy moving beyond the restrictive approach to surrogacy that was articulated in its famous Baby Mcase in 1988. I wholeheartedly encourage the New York Legislature and Governor to approve this important measure this year.

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Sital Kalantry is a Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the International Human Rights Policy Advocacy Clinic, and Co-Director of the Migration and Human Rights Program at Cornell Law School. On Twitter @skalantry.

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