Gotham Gazette

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Enacting a State Budget that Restores Opportunity

human services council presser

Seeking state budget changes (photo: Human Services Council)

Today -- Thursday, February 2 -- at 1 p.m., Urban Pathways, human services leaders, workers, and clients from downstate New York will gather at our Ivan Shapiro House, a supportive housing residence in Manhattan, to call on Governor Cuomo, the Assembly and Senate to strengthen the human services sector through cost-effective investment. We will also respond to an Executive Budget released by Gov. Cuomo that is devoid of this investment.

In the Executive Budget, Gov. Cuomo laid out laudable proposals, including expansion of pre-kindergarten and afterschool programming, and addressing homelessness and the opioid epidemic. All have a worthy goal of increasing opportunity for individuals and families. However, the $152 billion budget plan invests little in the sector responsible for executing this vision: nonprofit human services.

For example, to address homelessness, the budget appropriates $950 million for the construction of 6,000 supportive housing units throughout the state. Yet, an assessment of how the governor’s budget invests in compensating those who provide the support in supportive housing - human services case managers, security, maintenance, and administrative assistants - shows glaring shortcomings.

The fiscal year 2018 Executive Budget briefing book put out by the Cuomo administration acknowledges our “nonprofit labor force includes a large number of low- wage workers.” However, the budget is devoid of a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for our workers, freezing their income as their housing costs only rise. The governor has recognized the increasing costs of housing, but his budget does not reflect how hard it is for some of the state’s most important workers to afford their own places to live.

The governor’s budget also eliminates the planned 0.8 percent human services COLA. It also discontinues the COLA enacted in 2015 to certain direct care workers and direct service providers.

The State did enact a phase-in plan for a $15 minimum wage last year, which we appreciate. Our workers should not live in poverty. However, the governor has yet to fund the minimum wage increase for human services workers under contract with the state, leaving our sector to absorb the cost. He acknowledged the economic hardship that the increase imposes, suggesting his budget division could grant organizations a state reimbursement based on hardship. The governor should provide the necessary budget dollars instead of requiring us to demonstrate hardship. This is about organizations doing the most important work being able to pay their workforce without having to lay off employees.

The budget fails to consider the long-term success of its proposals, shortchanging all New Yorkers. For example, the staff of the new supportive housing units works years without a cost of living adjustment, ultimately leaving to work for a sector with COLAs. This means another new case manager for our clients. This interrupts the continuity in the clients’ care and jeopardizes their path to self-sufficiency. It also costs the supportive housing provider to hire and train new staff, which impedes the delivery of services for the client.

Currently, over 340 human services organizations across New York State are coming together for the Restore Opportunity Campaign. The campaign asks for increased investment in our sector to ensure we can continue to effectively serve our communities. The campaign recommends Gov. Cuomo do the following:

1. reverse the trend of defunding human services programs;

2. fund the cost of the minimum wage increase for human services workers; and

3. continue to invest in the Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Improvement Program.

Across the state, the Restore Opportunity Campaign is holding press conferences to stress that the state can do better for its communities. This past week, the Human Services Leadership Council of Central NY and the Southern Tier Independence Center held press conferences in Syracuse and Binghamton, two of several cities in the state with child poverty rates above 50 percent. The campaign has also held a press conference in Albany where one-third of households are rent-burdened, paying 30 percent of their income on rent.

This is the year to enact a state budget that restores opportunity for all New Yorkers. We urge Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature to stand with us and communities by investing in the organizations that strengthen our state and people every day.

Nicole Bramstedt is Policy Director at Urban Pathways. On Twitter: @UrbanPathwaysNY.

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