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Anti-Poverty Organizations Offer Equity Agenda for Next Mayor

job resources New Yorkers

Resources for New Yorkers (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

On Thursday, three organizations focused on equity published a report with a broad set of anti-poverty policy recommendations for New York City’s next mayor. Robin Hood, The Century Foundation, and Next100 teamed up for the project, putting forth “From Crisis to Opportunity: A Policy Agenda for an Equitable NYC,” with 150 pages of detailed plans to “get all New Yorkers back on their feet post-pandemic” and “create a more fair, equitable, and just New York City.

Robin Hood is dedicated specifically to fighting poverty in New York City, while The Century Foundation is an independent think tank, aimed at crafting bold and progressive policy, that created Next100, another think tank, meant to diversify the policy field and look to the next generation of leaders.

Put forth by the organizations roughly five months before the next mayor takes office on January 1, the agenda covers education, child care, housing, human services, the economy, and policing. It takes a broad look at the inequities plaguing the city both before the COVID-19 pandemic and as the city is attempting to come out of it, and offers “a roadmap to finally build the city that New York aspires to be,” as Emma Vadehra, Next100’s executive director, described the policy agenda in a press release.

The report begins with an outline of the problem, using statistics that show half of all New Yorkers experienced poverty at some time between 2015 and 2018. For Black and Latino residents, staying above the poverty threshold proved particularly difficult as the numbers showed 40% and 30% of those New Yorkers, respectively, being pushed back into poverty within one year of leaving it. The pandemic only worsened conditions -- one in four New Yorkers couldn’t pay their rent during the pandemic, the report says, and approximately 40% faced food insecurity.

The agenda says the incoming mayoral administration -- likely to be headed by Democratic primary winner Eric Adams given the city’s overwhelmingly blue electoral map -- has the opportunity to make COVID-19 recovery not about returning to some prior status quo but rising above it for the purposes of a more equitable city. The policy recommendations were written with a combined focus on political theory and lived experience, with the report saying it pays special attention to “the intersections and interconnectedness of the forces that contribute to poverty and hardship” like the affordable housing crisis exacerbating school segregation, which in turn exacerbates the learning gap.

The agenda starts off with child care, suggesting greater investment in high-quality, equitable child care and early learning options as well as quality care jobs. Those early learning opportunities also have to be meaningfully integrated, the report suggests, across the socioeconomic, racial, and ability divides. The plan also hopes to help parents maintain their work lives and continue their own education by increasing child care assistance through a “slots and vouchers” program.

On education, the report promises “High-Quality, Inclusive, and Equitable Educational Experiences for All of New York City’s Students.” On the agenda is increased tutoring, acceleration academies, and mental health resources to repair damage done during the pandemic as well as a more culturally responsive and competent curriculum for classrooms. This is in line with another promise to create socioeconomic and racial diversity in learning environments by fighting for enrollment equity, and community driven integration. The education plan takes the long view as well by proposing a career and university readiness program that runs from elementary school through college in both district and charter schools.

To address housing, plans in the agenda draw on pre-existing New York City laws like the one-shot program for paying rent arrears; expanding the “right to counsel” program to 400% over the poverty line so that all New Yorkers get the legal assistance they need during housing disputes; and enhancing the city’s Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) voucher program by increasing funding and widening eligibility requirements. Vouchers are a key part of the overall housing strategy, including the call for a housing navigator program to help New Yorkers with vouchers maximize their impact and to safeguard them against source of income discrimination.

To help support the non-profit human services sector that performs a great deal of essential city services through contracts with the government, the agenda includes policy recommendations such as pay equity, speedy and complete government payment for services provided, and a transformation of the human services contract procurement system. There is also a disaster preparedness suggestion that would bring nonprofits in on disaster planning so services can be delivered equitably and swiftly to communities in need.

Under the umbrella of economic recovery for the city, the organizations stress attention to historic inequities and the unbalanced effect of the pandemic on communities of color. The report proposes the use of public funds for a sustainable workforce development program that would respond to job displacement by working with the city’s training providers, educators, and employers. There is also a policy that suggests public funds could be used for a wage subsidy program to incentivize hiring and help small businesses, especially those run by women and people of color and those previously excluded from federal aid.

As has been the theme for many policy writers eyeing covid recovery, infrastructure has a significant role in the report’s economic recovery plan. The idea is to pour money into caregiving, broadband, transit, schools, health, and climate resilience for purposes including job creation, and to ensure those jobs are in the right places by using targeted hiring practices.

The final economic recovery proposal pivots to wages and labor protections, suggesting a minimum wage for gig workers and a $15 minimum wage for all restaurant workers as well as stronger protections against exploitative workplace policies.

The report rounds out its agenda with a set of proposals on public safety grounded in the idea that poverty and the criminal justice system are inextricably linked. The report advocates for budget justice as a means to decriminalize poverty, ensuring that the appropriate amount of funds are allocated to “trauma-informed” services for communities historically over-policed. The report demands an end to racial disparities in police stops and to biased policing through sufficient oversight as well as a removal of police officers from New York City schools. Finally, the organizations propose greater use of community center interventions as a means of violence interruption.

The agenda in full attempts to paint a picture of a progressive, reconstructed city. “The problems facing our city in a post-COVID environment are vast, but so too are the opportunities that the next mayor has to tackle systemic inequities that the pandemic exacerbated,” said Vadehra.

Robin Hood, The Century Foundation, and Next100 are not the only entities working to map the city’s policy agenda, especially as a turnover in mayoral administrations and City Council make-up is on the horizon. Just last week The Center for an Urban Future released its own report, curating 250 ideas for the city’s recovery and future, among others.

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