Gotham Gazette

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The Time Is Now to Increase City Human Services Contracts

Urban Pathways rally outside city hall

Urban Pathways members rally outside City Hall (photo via Urban Pathways)

In May 2015, my fellow Urban Pathways Board Member Gary Belsky rightfully recognized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscal year 2016 budget investment in the human services nonprofit workforce. The investment -- a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment and an $11.50-per-hour wage floor, coupled with a subsequent City-funded $15 minimum wage -- rewarded a long neglected workforce instrumental to moving vulnerable New Yorkers and the City forward.

However, as we approach the fiscal year 2018 budget, the mayor has more to do. It is now time for him to follow these laudable staff investments with a 12 percent increase in the city’s human services contracts themselves. Contract increases will act in concert with the enacted workforce investments. They will ensure we have human services organizations to employ the workers now deservedly earning a higher wage. (In 2013, nearly one in five city human services providers operated in the red, an indicator of potential closure.)

Human services nonprofits serve the most vulnerable in our city, about 2.5 million New Yorkers each year. They provide early childhood education and after-school programs, run food pantries, provide mental health services, house persons experiencing homelessness, and care for the elderly, among many other community services. Urban Pathways, for example, assists homeless adults in the New York City metropolitan area through a continuum of services and supportive housing.

Increases will enable us to provide ample training and affordable benefits to our staff. Years of flat funding from the city amid the rising costs of health care have complicated our ability to remain fiscally sound. This year, Urban Pathways endured another double-digit increase in our health care costs for our over 300 employees. Flat funding forces us to split these double-digit increases with our employees, resulting in increased co-pays and obligating us to modify our health insurance carrier.

City contract increases will also reverse the tide of consistently underfunded contracts. In the past decade, the city has granted only one increase to its human services contracts. This has yielded barebones human services programs that should do more than merely subsist. Those whom we serve deserve that.
A consistent challenge Urban Pathways faces in operating our facilities for alternatives to shelter for homeless adults -- the Olivieri Drop-In Center, Hegeman Safe Haven and Travelers Safe Haven -- is inadequate city investment in the form of an underfunded Other Than Personal Services (OTPS) line. OTPS constitutes a significant line in the budgets of our Drop-In Center and Safe Havens. We draw on it to feed the 500 clients we annually serve at these programs so they have access to healthy food amid their paltry incomes. We use it to ensure our staff receives benefits and development to counter high turnover in our sector. We also rely on it to upgrade technology and make capital repairs so infrastructure remains sound. Our Safe Havens, like any other buildings, break and require maintenance.

As a board member, I with countless others, invest time, money and personal equity in human services organizations across the city. We proudly do so because we recognize the value of these organizations. They are vital to the individuals receiving the services, our communities and the city overall. We also take our fiduciary duty seriously, and recognize that the challenges are growing and threaten the sustainability of these organizations.

The time is now for the mayor to complete his work and enact a budget that includes a 12 percent increase in the city’s human services contracts. Let’s ensure human services organizations and their workforce can develop and run programs to their fullest capabilities.

Kelley Gott has been an Executive Board Member of Urban Pathways since 2015.

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