Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1868 Thu, 22 Apr 2021 20:11:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Lives On The Line: The Critical Need to Preserve Funding for Domestic Violence Programs https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9873-lives-at-stake-new-york-need-fund-domestic-violence-programs https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9873-lives-at-stake-new-york-need-fund-domestic-violence-programs first mcray visits

A domestic violence hotline (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the dangers facing domestic violence survivors.

Survivors are facing escalating violence, increased isolation, and economic insecurity. And there are new and formidable barriers to finding safety. Tragically, three domestic violence victims in New York City - Vanessa Pierre, Ai Min, and Jessica Mitcham - lost their lives at the hands of abusive partners in recent days.

At this critical time, the programs domestic violence survivors depend on for essential services are more important than ever. We know that the city and state are facing profound budget challenges. As a result, the nonprofits that respond to violence and support survivors are bracing for reductions in city and state funding of the contracts that support these vital services. 

I lead one of those nonprofits, Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim services agency. We support thousands of victims of domestic violence every year, and we are deeply concerned about what reductions in public funding would mean for our programs, our staff, and victims of domestic violence, especially when so much is at stake.

When most operations in New York City ground to a halt this spring, Safe Horizon’s domestic violence shelters remained open to ensure survivors and their families had a safe, supportive place in which to heal. Advocates at our 24-hour hotlines continued to respond around the clock to victims of violence and abuse who needed shelter, crisis intervention, or safety planning assistance. Attorneys at our Domestic Violence Law Project expertly navigated virtual court proceedings to obtain orders of protection for New Yorkers at risk of further violence. 

In short, Safe Horizon and the entire network of domestic violence service providers in New York City rose to the challenge and helped keep victims and their families safe.

But right now, organizations like Safe Horizon are facing a stark future. Even as access to shelter, legal services, and safety planning is more important than ever, the public funding that supports our work is at risk. 

I don’t want to mince words: Nonprofits like Safe Horizon save lives every day. Cuts to our budgets would leave countless victims of domestic violence and other crimes at risk of greater harm.

We urge our elected leaders to protect funding for organizations like Safe Horizon. We cannot afford to lose more lives to domestic violence, especially when we know that safety, security, and access to life-saving resources are possible when we invest in these programs.

***
Liz Roberts is Interim CEO of Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim’s services agency. Every year Safe Horizon helps 250,000 victims of violence, crime and abuse find safety, support, hope and connection. If you or someone you know is suffering from violence or abuse, call Safe Horizon’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Lives On The Line: The Critical Need to Preserve Funding for Domestic Violence Programs Wed, 04 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Covid Spending Tops $4 Billion, Virtually All Covered by Federal Funds https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9835-new-york-city-four-billion-dollars-covid-spending-federal-funds https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9835-new-york-city-four-billion-dollars-covid-spending-federal-funds 4 city has billions

Mayor de Blasio inspects school cleaning (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


The COVID-19 pandemic has cost more than $4 billion in direct New York City expenses through mid-October, almost all of which the city expects to pay for with federal dollars.

Of the total spending, $4.08 billion has been registered in contracts, according to a report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Almost two-thirds of that funding, $2.44 billion, went towards food-related contracts (over $1 billion), personal protective equipment ($742 million), and hotels ($651 million). 

In addition to PPE, a large amount of spending went directly toward covid-related medical expenses, like staff, supplies, and testing. The city's medical staff contracts alone amount to $505 million and testing centers have so far cost another $100 million. A total of $390 million has been spent on medical, surgical, and lab supplies, including $141 million on ventilators alone.

As the city worked to contain the virus' spread while moving much of public life online, costs for decontamination, telecommunication, and emergency mortuary and burial services rose.

Dozens of city agencies have earmarked covid-related expenses, with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles a great deal of city contracting, receiving the most -- close to $1 billion, according to the Independent Budget Office. The next biggest agency spenders on direct covid response matters were the departments of sanitation, emergency management, and homeless services.

Stringer's office estimates $4.6 billion in total has been committed or spent on covid relief and response by the city. The city's June financial plan outlines close to $4.3 billion in federal funding for covid expenses across Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, according to Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio (the Mayor's Office could not verify the Comptroller's figures without the reporting criteria). The current fiscal year, FY 2021, runs through June 30 of next year.

“New York City is doing the work to drive down COVID-19, despite losing billions of dollars in tax revenue due to the crisis," Feyer wrote in an email. "We need the federal government to step up and pass a stimulus that includes aid to localities, or we face very painful choices.”

While it continues to call for federal funding to fill its budget gap and for additional aid for struggling New Yorkers, businesses, and other entities, the city plans to have 75% of the direct covid expenses, which are constantly growing, reimbursed through FEMA, pursuant to an emergency declaration. Most of the remaining 25% will be covered by federal funding from the CARES Act, the major relief package passed by Congress and signed by the president, with the city paying for the rest.

The FEMA reimbursement and much of CARES Act funding both offer wide latitude for spending, according to an expert at the city's Independent Budget Office. The Mayor's Office told Gotham Gazette no covid-related spending was being used to close budget gaps, though.

"The pandemic created new spending demands and will continue to do so," wrote Jonas Shaende, Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, in an email.

"COVID-related expenses began with funding for personal safety equipment and other needs for first responders, and now we are seeing other expenses, including housing the homeless and food assistance,” Shaende wrote. “The disruption to our economy and social upheaval has yet to end, and the need for revenue to meet these new challenges is on-going.”

A total of $3.54 billion has been spent, including contractual and non-contractual spending, which includes personnel costs like overtime, and other funding like subsidies to Health + Hospitals, the city's public hospital system, which is also overseeing its test and trace corp, as well as grants and loans from the city’s Department of Small Business Services.

The city expects 75% of its direct covid spending to be reimbursed by FEMA under an ongoing emergency declaration, signed in March, that covers the period from January 20 on. Feyer said no submissions to FEMA have been denied. 

The city received $5.34 billion in CARES Act funding, of which an estimated $1.45 billion was part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, a type of block grant for general purpose covid relief, according to a May 2020 report from the city’s Independent Budget Office. Feyer said FEMA and the Coronavirus Relief Fund make up the bulk of the city's coronavirus funding sources but other CARES Act grants and city dollars also contribute to the total.

MWBE Covid Contracting
Minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) made up roughly a quarter of city contracts for the direct covid spending, but accounted for only 10% of the total spending -- or $454 million, according to data provided by the Mayor's Office in response to a Gotham Gazette inquiry.

Less than half of that, just $206 million to date, according to a spokesperson for Stringer, citing figures from NYC Checkbook, has actually been paid to MWBEs, who have struggled under economic contraction and state restrictions due to the pandemic.

According to a survey of 500 MWBEs conducted by Stringer's office in July, two-thirds of respondents said they were "ready and able to contract with the City on COVID-19 response efforts" but that only 62 businesses competed for such opportunities "due to onerous restrictions and non-responsiveness from the City," the report states. Ten out of the 500 MWBEs surveyed in July received a covid-related contract.

A vast majority of respondents said they would not be able to maintain operating expenses for more than six months. Payroll and rent were cited as the biggest challenges.

“MWBEs are the lifeblood of our commercial corridors - driving economic growth and employment opportunities across New York City. But MWBEs continue to face barriers to accessing COVID-related contracts and critical government funding, and our survey found that 85 percent reported they cannot survive the next six months," Stringer wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette Monday.

Many MWBEs could not operate during the state of emergency and almost none (only 5%) received private sector aid, the survey found. At the time, about a quarter did not apply for government relief, either because of restrictive requirements attached to funding or they did not want to incur debt. Others didn't know relief was available or funding sources ran out before they applied.

"We can't leave engines of local wealth creation behind if we're serious about bringing the city out of our current economic crisis. It's time for real relief for MWBEs and real action from City Hall to dismantle systemic barriers to economic opportunity,” he said.

The Mayor's Office says it went beyond what the law required by setting MWBE goals for emergency contracts and has worked with agencies to proactively identify MWBEs in competitive sectors.

“During the height of the pandemic, our first priority was getting hospitals what they needed," wrote Julia Arredondo, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email Monday. "We expedited the procurement process and worked with vendors who could deliver in mass quickly. Building up M/WBEs has been central to this administration, and we have made strides to remove systemic barriers to participation, increase discretionary amount for M/WBEs, and address disparities in access to capital.”

The administration has also allowed for goods, services, and construction valued under $500,000 to be procured from MWBEs outside a formal competitive process, Arredondo said. The city has more than tripled its MWBE contracting -- from 8% to 28% of contract dollars -- and awarded a total of $17.1 billion since FY2015, she wrote in the email.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
New York City Covid Spending Tops $4 Billion, Virtually All Covered by Federal Funds Mon, 19 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
In Dire Condition, Nonprofit Human Services Sector Launches Recovery Effort https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9841-future-human-services-sector-coronavirus-recovery-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9841-future-human-services-sector-coronavirus-recovery-new-york newly opened house

Human services providers struggle due to covid (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Nonprofits that provide human services have played an additionally vital role during the coronavirus pandemic in feeding, sheltering, and caring for New Yorkers. But the sector, which was already facing dire financial straits in recent years, has been devastated as fundraising has ground to a halt, city funding has been cut, and state contract payments have been put on hold. The Human Services Council, an organization that represents more than 170 providers in the state, is convening a new task force on Tuesday as it hopes to examine the consequences of the pandemic and how the human service sector can rebuild as the economy recovers.

As the pandemic led to billions in lost tax revenue for the city and state, budget officials began to cut spending but the need for services provided by contracted nonprofits only increased. Organizations that sheltered homeless people or delivered meals to the elderly, for instance, adapted to the pandemic even as they too began to lose revenue and struggled to pay their bills. The Human Services Council estimates that as many as 1,800 nonprofits across the state could close down in the wake of this crisis, leading to almost 14,000 layoffs. Many have already shuttered their doors.

The Human Services Council’s task force will take a closer look at those effects as it seeks to play a role in the city’s decision-making on budgets, programs, and needed services through the recovery. HSC leadership also wants to ensure that the sector -- its organizations, workers, and clients -- is front and center as New York City’s 2021 election cycle unfolds, particularly the race for mayor.

“Human services have been and will continue to be absolutely essential to New York’s recovery  from this crisis,” said Michelle Jackson, HSC’s executive director, in a statement. “The sector has stepped up for New Yorkers in a time of crisis, and we will be there to help turn things around. We look forward to putting forward a very clear agenda for our partners in City Hall and Albany so we can work together to craft a smart and effective strategy to stem the tide of this virus and keep New York strong.”

The task force will be co-chaired by Jamie Rubin, CEO of Meridiam North America, and Fred Shack, CEO of Urban Pathways. Over the next months, the task force will collect data and survey the nonprofit sector, issuing preliminary recommendations in January. It’s final recommendations will be released in March, before hosting a forum for New York City mayoral candidates on the central issues in April.

“We are ready to chart a new path for a sector that has been at the center of New York's COVID-19 response and will be essential to the city and state’s recovery,” Rubin said in a statement. “New York can only move forward with a robust human services sector working closely with their government partners to ensure that New Yorkers have the services they need in this new normal, and our goal is to provide the roadmap to get there."

Shack, in a statement, said, “Turning the corner on COVID-19 must be our city and state’s first priority, and it will require a responsive and collaborative government willing to work with those of us who know firsthand what this virus has done and how we can overcome it, and this task force is ready to take on those major issues.”

Even prior to the pandemic, many nonprofits worked on the edge of insolvency as contracts for human services were routinely underfunded by about 20%, according to an HSC report. In New York City, where human service providers contracted by the city employ about 200,000 workers, an analysis by Comptroller Scott Stringer last year found that nearly 90% of contracts to providers in the 2018 fiscal year were sent to his office for certification after the start date. Those delays in certification, owing to the city’s complex procurement process, lead to delayed payments while nonprofits continue to provide their services. A study by Seachange Capital Partners, a nonprofit merchant bank, found that contract registration delays cost nonprofits $744 million in the 2018 fiscal year.

In November 2019, the City Council examined legislation sponsored by Council Member Farah Louis that would create an Office of Not-For-Profit Services to help nonprofits navigate the city’s red tape. The legislation has not seen any movement since then.

[Read: City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits]

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
In Dire Condition, Nonprofit Human Services Sector Launches Recovery Effort Mon, 19 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Human Services Workers are Essential Workers: It’s Time for the City to Treat Us That Way https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9434-human-services-workers-essential-workers-new-york-city-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9434-human-services-workers-essential-workers-new-york-city-coronavirus workers food hungry

Workers at Project Hospitality move meals (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Like health care workers, first responders, grocery workers, delivery workers, and more, human services workers are essential workers during COVID-19 and beyond. We are always essential.

We serve the most vulnerable where they are and according to what they need. We help seniors get meals and medications delivered and staff residential facilities, homeless shelters, and food banks.

We provide home care to at-risk communities, keeping them from overwhelming hospitals. We help people navigate the unemployment system, sign up for public benefits, and fight back against predatory landlords. We provide services to address the rise in domestic violence and child abuse, and assist those impacted by the justice system.

We help families navigate remote learning and staff Regional Enrichment Centers for the children of frontline workers and homeless children. We are mainly women, people of color, and immigrants serving our neighbors in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and for whom recovery will be a long and arduous road.

More than anywhere else in the nation, New York State and City contract out their human services work to us because they recognize that government cannot provide services to the vast diversity of New York’s population on its own. The work continues even as conditions have deteriorated.

We have not received hazard pay although we are required to keep our programs open, are underpaid and have gone years without cost of living adjustments. We lack adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Many of our staff have gotten COVID-19, some have died.

We are working without adequate support from government. The City has threatened to reduce funding to many of our programs, which are more critical now than ever. This has already triggered layoffs, contributed to widespread job insecurity, and hurt the communities already marginalized and isolated before the pandemic began.

Throughout the crisis, the City has not successfully communicated its emergency response strategies to the human services sector nor has it sought to bring the sector to the table as real partners and active problem-solvers to jointly determine its plans, thereby compromising and in some cases, delaying the provision of needed resources to hard-hit neighborhoods. The City is also proposing policies that while well-intentioned, will be unfunded mandates for human services organizations.

We demand that the City of New York ensure now and through recovery:

-All human services workers receive pay reflective of our commitment and essential services to New York City. This includes hazard pay (incentive pay) and annual cost of living adjustments that have to be funded by the City.

-Human services organizations be recognized as essential to the city’s rehabilitation and receive assurance that all of our City contracts and City Council discretionary funding will renew in Fiscal Year 2021 (which begins this July 1) so that we can continue our work.

-Human services organizations receive maximum contractual flexibility in FY21 to meet the evolving and emerging needs of the communities we serve.

-A FY21 City budget that prioritizes human services that support the neighborhoods and populations most significantly impacted by COVID-19.

We are risking our own health and our families’ health to serve others through COVID-19. When New York begins to recover, we will be the ones helping the hardest hit New Yorkers put their lives back together. Without adequate support from the City, human services workers will not be able to carry out this work, and tragedies resulting from COVID-19 will continue to worsen.

Signed,
Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC)
Greenwich House
Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)
Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center
Womankind

Additional Signatories
82nd Street Academics
Abbott House
Academy of Medical & Public Health Services
ACMH, Inc.
Ali Forney Center
Apex for Youth
Apicha Community Health Center
Arab-American Family Support Center
Asian American Federation
Asian Americans for Equality
Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Bergen Beach Youth Organization
Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC
Birch Family Services
Boys' Club of New York
BRC
Broadway Housing Communities
Bronx House
BronxWorks
Brooklyn Community Services
CASES
Casita Maria
Catholic Charities
Center for Court Innovation
Center for Employment Opportunites
Center for Family Life
Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans, Inc. (CIANA)
Child Care Center Of New York City
Child Center of New York
Chinatown Manpower Project
Chinese Methodist Center Corporation
Chinese Progressive Association
Citymeals on Wheels
Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF)
Coalition for Hispanic Family Serviced
Coalition for Homeless Youth
Commonpoint Queens
Community Consultation Center/Henry Street Settlement
Community League of the Heights Inc
Community Options
Comunilife, Inc.
Concern for Independent Living, Inc.
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
Day One
Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM)
Dominican Women's Development Center
Educational Alliance
Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities
Emerald Isle Immigration Center
Encore Community Services
Fern Zagor Consulting LLC
Fifth Avenue Committee
Florence E. Smith Senior Services
Fox House
Girl Vow
Girls for Gender Equity
Goddard Riverside
Goodwill Industries of Greater NY and Northern NJ, Inc.
Graham Windham
Grand St. Settlement
Green City Force
Hamilton-Madison House
HANAC Inc.
Harlem Dowling-West Side Center
Hartley House, INC
Head Start Sponsoring Board of NYC
Heights and Hills
Henry Street Settlement
Her Justice
Homecrest Community Services Inc.
Hot Bread Kitchen
Housing and Services, Inc.
Hudson Guild
I Have A Dream - NY Foundation
ICL
India Home, Inc.
Indochina Sino-American Community Center
Jacob A Riis Neighborhood Settlement
Japanese American Social Services, Inc
JASA
JCC Staten Island
JCCA
JCHHOMES
Jewel Human Services Inc.
Jewish Community Center of Staten Island
Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Inc.
Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
La Colmena
Laal NYC
Lantern Community Services
Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
Life Dome adult Services
Literacy Assistance Center
Little Flower Children and Family Services of NY
Lower East Side Family Union
Lutheran Social Service of NY
Manhattan Youth
Maranatha Human Services. Org
Mekong NYC
Mercy Home for Children, Inc.
MercyFirst
Millennium Development
MinKwon Center for Community Action
Mixteca Organization, Inc.
MMCC
Morningside Retirement and Health Services
Mosholu Montefiore Community Center
Muslim Community Network
NAACP New York State Conference
National Association of Social Workers-NYC Chapter
Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter
New Settlement Apartments
New York Center for Interpersonal Development, Inc.
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
New York City Anti-Violence Project
New York Memory Center
Nonprofit Finance Fund
Nonprofit New York
Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)
NYC Employment and Training Coalition
NYU Nursing
Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation
Odyssey House, Inc.
Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow
Option Center/ Goddard Riverside Community Center
Osborne Association
Outreach Development Corporation
PA'LANTE Harlem
Partnership for After School Education
Partnership with Children
People's Theatre Project
Per Scholas
Phipps Neighborhoods
Polonians Organized to Minister to Our Community, Inc.
Presbyterian Senior Services (PSS)
Project Hospitality
Providence House, Inc
Queens Community House
R.A.I.N. Inc.
Recreation Rooms and Settlement
Red Hook Initiative
Restore NYC
RiseBoro Community Partnership
RSS Riverdale Senior Services
RYAN Health
Safe Horizon
SAGE
SAIL, Inc.
Sakhi for South Asian Women
Sampreshan Inc
Sapna NYC, Inc.
SCAN-Harbor, Inc.
SCO Family of Services
Selfhelp Community Services, Inc.
Services Now for Adult Persons, Inc. (SNAP)
Sheltering Arms
Sisters of Charity Housing Development Corporation
SNAP-Ed
Social Builder USA
South Asian Council for Social Services
South Asian Youth Action
Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers, Inc.
Spanish Speaking Elderly Council-Raices, Inc.
St Nicks Alliance
St. Francis Friends of the Poor
St. John's Residence for Boys
StreetWise Partners
Sunnyside Community Services
Supportive Housing Network of New York
The Advocacy Institute
The Brotherhood Sister Sol
The Center for Anti-Violence Education
The Child Center of NY
The Children's Village
The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families
The Door
The Fortune Society, Inc.
The HOPE Program
The Jewish Board of Family & Children's Services
The Korean American Family Service Center
The League Education and Treatment Center
The New York Foundling
The NYC LGBT Center
The Young Women's Christians Association of Queens
Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center
Union Settlement
Unique People Services
United Chinese Association of Brooklyn
University Consultation & Treatment Center for Mental Hygiene Inc
University Settlement Society Of New York
UnLocal, Inc.
Urban Pathways
Veterans & Community Housing Coalition
Violence Intervention Program
Volunteers of America-Greater New York, Inc.
Washington Heights Community Services, Inc.
West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH)
Women For Afghan Women
Women In Need (WIN)
Workforce Professionals Training Institute
YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood
Youth Action Programs and Homes, Inc.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Human Services Workers are Essential Workers: It’s Time for the City to Treat Us That Way Mon, 25 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
It’s More Important Than Ever for the City to Take Care of Those Who Care for the Most Vulnerable New Yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9264-city-must-care-for-human-services-most-vulnerable-new-yorkers-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9264-city-must-care-for-human-services-most-vulnerable-new-yorkers-coronavirus cm helen rosenthal local girl

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, the author (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


To address the coronavirus crisis and save lives, New York City government and New Yorkers are mobilizing in ways never seen before. The City swiftly sent an unprecedented message to our human services sector -- the 250,000-plus employees who provide housing access, child and elder care, shelters, emergency food relief, mental health counseling, and disaster response. These workers -- traditionally undervalued, underpaid, and unappreciated -- were told that they are on the front-line of the COVID-19 crisis, and they will be appropriately supported for their dedication. 

The City made it clear that all programs will be paid in-full, even if services have to be adjusted. Human services providers will be reimbursed for additional COVID-19 costs, such as safety supplies and staff shortage or personnel changes. And the City is streamlining its administrative practices to further assist providers. These are all profoundly helpful measures. 

To its great credit, the City took these measures within the first days of the crisis, during a period of great uncertainty. At the same time, both the de Blasio administration and the city Comptroller’s office have worked to expedite payments to human services providers as soon as invoices come in. 

But there is more to be done. Here are the next steps.

Front-line human services workers should be paid overtime for their hours spent working directly with the public. Why? Because they are risking their lives for those most in need: case workers and janitors who work at shelters; street homeless outreach workers; and staff at senior centers. As the City negotiates “incentive pay” for its own front-line staff, the non-profit agencies that provide city services should be given the same consideration.

For those who need it, front-line human service workers should be given child care vouchers to pay family members or trusted neighbors to watch their children.

Lastly, to put everyone’s mind at ease, human services providers should be given reassurance now that their contracts will be renewed in the next fiscal year, which starts this July 1. Now is the time to allow these mission-driven nonprofits to focus on the needs at hand. Just a few weeks into this crisis, we are already seeing a surge in unemployed New Yorkers who will need food pantry and other social safety net assistance and a lack of sufficient support for already vulnerable residents, such as seniors and people with disabilities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed what many working class people have always known: the heroes in our society are very often the ones with traditionally undervalued roles. Now more than ever, we must see the value in the workers who care for our elders and young children; the staff who support our homeless shelters; the employees who keep our food pantries open; the counselors who staff our emergency hotlines; and many, many others. 

We can’t get through this crisis without them. As quickly as possible, let’s move forward and fully support the human services sector’s critical work by providing childcare, financial security, and ongoing resources in the city budget.

***
City Council Member Helen Rosenthal is a Democrat representing parts of Manhattan. On Twitter @HelenRosenthal.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
It’s More Important Than Ever for the City to Take Care of Those Who Care for the Most Vulnerable New Yorkers Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Amid Outbreak Volatility, City Takes Steps to Stabilize Human Services Nonprofits That Constitute Much of Social Safety Net https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9223-coronavirus-outbreak-new-york-city-stabilize-human-services-nonprofits-social-safety-net https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9223-coronavirus-outbreak-new-york-city-stabilize-human-services-nonprofits-social-safety-net spk qun love

Human Services Nonprofits provide essential staff and programming to the city (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Social service organizations in recent days have been scrambling for clarity from government officials on how they will continue to get paid as they carry out essential city services for the most vulnerable populations and take up positions on the frontlines of public health, safety, and crisis management amid the coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he was designated roughly 40,000 workers from human services nonprofits that contract with the city as “essential city personnel” under his state of emergency declaration, and on Wednesday de Blasio administration officials announced several other measures, including guaranteed contract payments to those human service organizations, even if they can no longer meet their contractual obligations.

New York City spent $6.8 billion on human services in fiscal year 2019, a third of all city procurement, on anything from child protective services to supportive housing for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and mental health crises. The services they provide are necessary to keep the city government and economy running, making up an essential part of the social safety net and employing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

"Providers and staff need reassurance that contract payments will continue, uninterrupted, during this period of uncertainty," wrote Chief Procurement Officer Dan Symon, in a letter to organizations Wednesday. "We want to assure providers that as long as they are working with their contracting agencies on a plan to continue, modify or suspend services, they will get paid their contracted expenses."

The letter also announces increased cash advances to handle emergency expenses and suspends all new auditing. Additionally, organizations struggling to obtain the necessary cleaning and disinfecting supplies can receive city assistance through their contracting agency.

With city, state, and federal guidance urging (sometimes mandating) people to self-isolate and businesses to drastically reduce their in-person workforce, New York City's network of nonprofit providers are seeing major changes in services as client participation drops off in some areas and new urgent needs arise in response to the outbreak. Wednesday's letter clarifies some of the most pressing questions for city contract payments, but providers say a lot of uncertainty remains as state officials continue to offer little information.

Particularly critical are out-of-home programs that must remain open in a disaster, including residential services like foster care, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and senior assisted living. With the sector's long tradition of community-based care, human services organizations are often the best and, in many cases, only professionals able to provide the immediate resources needed in a crisis.

"We would love to see blanket language from both our city and state governments that say nonprofits will be held harmless on their contracts," said Michelle Jackson, acting executive director of the Human Services Council, a trade association with 160 nonprofit members, in an interview with Gotham Gazette Tuesday, a day before the letter was issued.

"We think this guidance is an important step forward and appreciate the quick response to the letter we sent in collaboration with other coalitions," she added in an email Wednesday in response to the new information from the city. "This will help providers make clearer decisions around finances and being able to support staff."

The letter formalizes de Blasio’s announcement that the 40,000 city contracted health and human service workers will be considered essential workers in an emergency, but Human Services Council estimates the full human services workforce in the city to be over 200,000, including state-, federally-, and privately-funded positions.

"Nonprofit workers who need to continue to work because they work in congregant living or because they've been redeployed to do other work need to be treated as first responders. They need to be given access to emergency childcare, financial assistance, and transportation. They need access to supplies, like gloves, masks and cleaning supplies, so that they can maintain safe facilities," Jackson said Tuesday.

Good Shepherd Services is one of the largest healthcare, child welfare, and social services providers in New York City, serving over 30,000 children and families in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. About 85 percent of its $100 million annual budget comes from government contracts, according to executive director Michelle Yanche. Some of its initiatives, like afterschool programming, have been suspended; but others like its residential services, which serve some of the most at-risk and marginalized populations, must remain operational in a state of emergency.

Good Shepherd runs several residential programs including foster care, domestic violence shelters, and supportive and transitional housing, providing roofs for roughly 540 clients, a vast majority of whom are children in foster care. Henry Street Settlement, which operates “Tier 2” shelters, provides extended-length emergency apartments for children and families with 24/7 onsite support services, like social workers and resource coordinators. President and CEO David Garza told Gotham Gazette it receives about 65 to 70 percent of its annual budget from city and state contracts, a substantial amount of which is from the city Department of Homeless Services.

On Saturday, the de Blasio administration put out guidelines for health and human service providers who are struggling to meet their contractual obligations with the city, either because of programs being forced to close or be modified to meet unforeseen and unprecedented demands.

"We are familiar with the guidance and we think it's helpful. It's certainly more informative than what the state has put out, but a lot of it is opaque," Jackson said Tuesday, before Symon's announcement. "It is not as clear as we need it to be."

“Businesses, governments and non-profit providers are all grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, and we are calling on our Federal partners to deliver the resources we all need to continue to serve all New Yorkers” wrote Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget, in an email. Representatives for Governor Andrew Cuomo did not respond to questions about the state's efforts to recoup contract advances from organizations that have seen a decline in client participation, an issue raised in a recent letter from City Comptroller Scott Stringer to the de Blasio administration for city contracts.

Under the city's previous guidance, the de Blasio administration only committed to reimbursing certain expenses and contract modifications, leaving it unclear whether missed service targets would be penalized and how organizations would come up with the money if they have large new capital needs, like purchasing laptops for remote learning and case work, that hadn't previous been contracted for (an article recently published in The City explores debt incurred by human service organizations as they await payment from city contracts).

Under the new guidelines, "if you work with your contracting agency and agree to a plan for moving forward, you will get paid for executing on that plan. And, if that plan costs more money than the contracted services, you will get paid for the additional expenses. If the plan calls for a suspension of services, you will get paid your contracted expenses," according to the de Blasio administration letter issued Wednesday.

'Waves and Aftershocks'
Continuing to pay for suspended services puts the future of the city's afterschool programming, for instance, on more certain footing but it is also a boon for other essential services that are provided by multi-service agencies that rely on a number of government contracts.

Both Good Shepherd Services and Henry Street Settlement have scaled back some programming during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and are exploring how they can best serve their client populations now. That task requires them to consider how to maintain and even expand their current budgets, while losing critical revenue from government contracts (including from the state) that will no longer be fulfilled.

"Each area has been impacted differently by this as it unfolds,” said Garza of Henry Street. “Clearly program modifications across the board, sometimes program suspensions, but sometimes an intensification and increase in programs depending on what it is. Right now we are trying to place a really acute focus on our residential programs and shelter because people in high-density situations, they are vulnerable populations, they tend to be way more at-risk."

Issues around food insecurity, primary health care, and mental health care all become intensified at a time like this, he said, adding that the unpredictability of needs exacerbates the crisis.

Consistent with their missions, organizations say they want to be thinking through ways to redeploy unused sites and staff to be responsive to the specific needs that communities now have. "But because we're really so challenged with being able to fully put contingency plans in place for our residential and out-of-home care we're not able to fully focus on some of those other areas," Yanche said.

Garza sees the pandemic in the long-term. "From everything we know [the outbreak] is going to continue to have a huge impact and I think at a point it's going to shift [onto] some of the other programs that we operate, like access to employment opportunities. It's in waves and aftershocks," he said.

For Yanche, the coronavirus outbreak shows that the network of human services nonprofits throughout the city "is one of New York City's greatest assets, that they have us like boots on the ground to be activated to be responsive in a crisis like this. A lot of other places don't have that."

But there's a caveat. "I think because of our lack of preparedness and none of us really having thought through how to respond in a health crisis, we haven't yet been able to fully take advantage of activating that network," she added.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Amid Outbreak Volatility, City Takes Steps to Stabilize Human Services Nonprofits That Constitute Much of Social Safety Net Wed, 18 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Must Act Immediately to Strengthen Our Nonprofit Social Safety Net https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9218-new-york-city-act-strengthen-nonprofit-social-safety-net-coronavirus-outbreak https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9218-new-york-city-act-strengthen-nonprofit-social-safety-net-coronavirus-outbreak social services food pantries

Amid coronavirus outbreak, the social safety net must hold (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Daily home-delivered meals for home-bound seniors. Case-management to help make sure people have medicine and essential supplies, and reduce the harm of social isolation. Emergency food for people who are unemployed or homeless. Child care for those who still have to go to work.

All services we utterly need right now. And all provided by New York City’s remarkable network of not-for-profit human service providers.

These providers are essential to our city, as Mayor de Blasio recognized Tuesday when he declared about 40,000 nonprofit human services workers as "essential city employees," so they can receive child care as part of the emergency system the Department of Education and other city agencies are setting up to start next week.

Unfortunately, the City is not yet enabling these human service not-for-profits to step up to meet current crisis-time needs. With rapid action by City Hall, these safety net organizations can become an essential and creative part of our emergency response to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Without rapid action, they will become part of the crisis, as their employees swell the ranks of the unemployed.

Here’s what the City needs to do right away:

Don’t let the safety net fail
Commit to continue to pay the existing contracts of not-for-profit social service agencies through the end of the fiscal year (June 30), whether or not every service continues during the crisis, and stop recouping cash advances that were provided.

Advance bridge loans to cover cash flow. The City’s Department of Small Business Services deserves credit for rapidly establishing an emergency loan fund for small businesses, but it does not include these larger not-for-profit human service organizations.

This will allow the not-for-profits to continue what work they can, like meal delivery, grab-and-go soup kitchens and food pantries, and case management by phone. And it will also prevent thousands of social service workers from losing their income, even if the after-school youth program or senior center they usually work at is closed.

We’ve already allocated the funds for this work, so there’s no need for the workers who provide it to apply for already-strapped unemployment benefits. We’re going to need many of these people for other tasks. And even for those who stay home, whether because of their own or others’ health, this is a low-income workforce. Losing weeks of pay means they can’t pay for rent, food, and medicine.

Clarify what’s essential
The City needs to provide guidance on the essential services these organizations should provide. Existing programs to deliver meals to seniors are a no-brainer. These services should be expanded to include seniors who usually go to a senior center, and to other low-income households that can’t get food right now.

Not-for-profit child care centers need guidance too. They should either be looped into the enrichment center network that the Department of Education is creating, with the guidance and materials needed to do it, or instructed to close.

We’re going to need to continue to provide food pantry and grab-and-go soup kitchens, since we still have thousands of homeless New Yorkers living on the streets. And sadly, the ranks of people without enough food is going to grow as workers are laid off or put on unpaid leave from hurting or closed businesses.

Encourage thoughtful creativity
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to need massive amounts of creativity to meet rapidly-evolving needs. As our hospitals become overwhelmed, we will need an expanded healthcare support workforce. As social isolation sets in, we’ll need a new system of support to help vulnerable seniors (and all of us).

Our human service not-for-profit organizations can act quickly to fill these gaps, as they did after Hurricane Sandy. My office is already working with Heights and Hills (an organization serving older adults in Brooklyn) to get volunteers calling hundreds of home-bound seniors on their lists to see how we can help them. This kind of work can be expanded to help fill in the gaps in our safety net, as best we can under these emergency circumstances.

Let’s empower and encourage New York City’s not-for-profit organizations to be creative and flexible in the anxious days ahead.

Coordination
Finally, in addition to contract commitments, clear guidance, and flexibility, our not-for-profit organizations need a clear point-of-contact in the City administration, a “not-for-profit czar,” with access to senior leadership and the ability to make decisions. They should convene daily calls with human service leaders to help stand up the emergency networks we need. Crisis leadership that is clear, flexible, and inspiring can help unlock an enormous amount of good.

The COVID-19 crisis is exposing massive gaps in our social safety net. But we are blessed with a creative and resilient network of human service providers, in every neighborhood of the city, that can step up to the challenge at this urgent moment. Let’s not let it fail.

***
Brad Lander is a New York City Council Member from Brooklyn, and the former executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a not-for-profit affordable housing and community development not-for-profit organization. On Twitter @BradLander.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
New York City Must Act Immediately to Strengthen Our Nonprofit Social Safety Net Tue, 17 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9120-city-s-20-billion-in-contracting-takes-another-step-into-modernity https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9120-city-s-20-billion-in-contracting-takes-another-step-into-modernity comptroller dinapoli event

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York City government spends roughly $20 billion per year on goods and services through contracts with non-governmental vendors, including thousands of opportunities for companies of all types and sizes to work with the city. But the contracting process has long been arduous for vendors to navigate and difficult for watchdogs to closely monitor. Officials say that is now changing as a multi-step effort has unfolded over the past few years to modernize the technical infrastructure and databases that support city contracting.

And on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) in partnership with City Council Member Ben Kallos announced the launch of updated in-person and online terminals where key information about city contracts and vendors is now accessible. The announcement is part of an ongoing effort that began in 2016 to implement a new electronic system -- the Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal, or PASSPort -- that will serve as a one-stop-shop for agencies, vendors, oversight entities, and the public involved or interested in government procurement.

The latest update corrects some of the growing pains that emerged while moving to the more modern, “end-to-end” platform intended to expand accessibility and transparency to city contracting and streamline the process for vendors and agency staff.

“Whether it’s vendors who are competing with one another, reporters, or just members of the public who want to know where their tax dollars are going, it’s important that folks can find it,” Kallos said about the newly accessible databases.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony at MOCS headquarters in Lower Manhattan, Kallos, an Upper East Side Democrat who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, and MOCS Director and Chief Contracting Officer Dan Symon reported that a rebooted “public inspection terminal” had both now been synchronized with the new wrap-around system, PASSPort. Accompanying the new in-person terminal, which they hope current and potential contractors will use, is a new online portal, which is also now using most of the same data sets. Those data sets now include information on vendors, their principals, and affiliated entities.

“PASSPort will be a complete, end-to-end online procurement platform that the city and vendors and other stakeholders and oversights will use together to do their work. That never existed before. This is one output of that huge effort,” Symon said, referring to the PASSPort overhaul.

MOCS is the city agency responsible for facilitating and providing one degree of oversight of the city’s procurement of goods and services. It coordinates among city agencies, potential vendors, and other oversight bodies, like the city comptroller’s office, to make the process efficient and compliant with procurement rules.

As part of the transition to PASSPort, MOCS had previously digitized the vendor disclosure process, making it possible for vendors to update their information online and significantly cutting the time it takes to update the database. It is the type of digital efficiency that is seen as essential for many firms doing business with the city, especially smaller ones and those operating at slimmer margins that may not be able to hire sufficient compliance staff.

The second phase allowed city agencies to shop and purchase contracts online. When fully implemented vendors will be able to submit bids and proposals online, agencies will be able to evaluate vendors and make awards, and vendors will be able to track the entire process. Phase three is planned to begin this spring and Symon expects the entire system to be in place by this time next year. The project has been criticized for cost overruns: what had been a $30.5 million contract with French firm Ivalua in 2016, ballooned to roughly $47 million in 2018. Symon has said the additional spending came after MOCS decided to expand the scope of the project due to demand and early successes.

The “public inspection terminal” is a computer database used for in-person access to MOCS contract and vendor information, which is available for any member of the public to use without special authorization. It is located on the 9th Floor of 253 Broadway (a photo ID may be required to enter the building, which houses a number of city government offices). Upon arrival, members of the public must sign-in and be logged into the database by MOCS staff. Information found on the portal can be emailed or printed onsite free of charge.

The in-person terminal has been in use since the late 1980s, and for most of the last 30 years has operated a system called VENDEX, which offered computerized data-tracking but lacked the integrated features of a one-stop shop for government procurement. When Kallos became chair of the Council contracts committee last year, he said his office found that in a number of areas the terminal was using legacy data from VENDEX rather than the more complete and up-to-date information contained in PASSPort. The same was true for the online portal, which was established under a 2017 law sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander and launched as part of the second phase of the PASSPort rollout, which formally began in April 2019.

“Almost everything now is going to be in PASSPort,” Kallos said. “So we found a little bit of a conflict. What previously might have happened is that you would have read it in the newspaper but we have a really great working relationship...so we’ve been working with [MOCS] trying to get this done.”

Now available through PASSPort are a broad range of reporting from basic identifying information about vendors and their principals to performance evaluations on vendors that do business with the city. Of particular interest to reporters and ethics watchdogs, according to Kallos, is the Current Related Entities Report, which shows entities that control or are affiliated with a vendor, an important tool for tracking potential conflicts of interest.

Moving the system online has “made doing business with the city a lot easier,” said Jennifer Geiling, MOCS’ press secretary.

Previously, a vendor would have to fill out a paper questionnaire and deliver it to the MOCS offices where a staff member would have to key their information into the database. “Here we made the terminal for vendors to interact with completely online, they are submitting their disclosures online in their own locations, so it’s an online platform,” Symon explained.

“It used to take somewhere around 30 days median time for an average size organization to go through the VENDEX process, but today it takes less than a day, because it’s now gone online, it’s digital, it’s available at all times for vendors to update,” noted Geiling.

Kallos and Symon believe moving to a more modern system will have a big impact on vendors competing for city contracts, especially smaller businesses that may have fewer resources to facilitate navigating the procurement process.

“The people who do business are keenly aware because they have something at stake. We have 18,000 vendors who are going to be taking advantage of this. Those 18,000 vendors have tens if not hundreds of thousands, or millions of employees, altogether. So I think they will be paying attention,” said Kallos.

“One of the goals that we have with PASSPort generally is greater transparency, which allows greater accessibility,” Geiling added.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity Fri, 07 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Final Signature Allows Implementation of Cuomo-DiNapoli Agreement to Restore Certain Contract Oversight Powers https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9056-cuomo-dinapoli-state-entities-finalize-reestablished-comptroller-oversight-powers https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9056-cuomo-dinapoli-state-entities-finalize-reestablished-comptroller-oversight-powers goccuomo con di

Cuomo & DiNapoli (photo: Governor's Office)


A resolution has finally been reached around how to deal with a thorny issue involving Governor Andrew Cuomo, contracting oversight, and the corruption that plagued some of the governor’s biggest economic development initiatives.

As of December 31, all relevant parties have agreed to comply with an August agreement between Cuomo and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli restoring the comptroller’s oversight of some large contracts entered into by SUNY and CUNY and their affiliates, and by the Office of General Services. The agreement is now expected to become operational in February, according to a spokesperson for the comptroller.

The memorandum of understanding was partially signed in August, but as recently as mid-December DiNapoli said SUNY Research Foundation, one of the entities coming under the comptroller’s purview, had not given the go-ahead to bring it from a “conceptual agreement,” as DiNapoli put it, to an actualized program. As of December 31, however, all parties had approved the new system, the spokesperson told Gotham Gazette.

“We have an agreement with the Executive, and we will start reviewing contracts in February 2020. All parties have acted (OGS/SUNY/CUNY/SUNY Construction/CUNY Construction/SUNY RF/SUNY Fuller Road & Fort Schuyler) and agreed to allow OSC to review their contracts,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement.

While representatives for several of the parties signed the memorandum in August, it still required approval by the boards of CUNY and SUNY affiliates, and for their policies to be updated in compliance. CUNY’s approval came on October 28, and two other SUNY-affiliated entities agreed on December 18. SUNY Research Foundation approved the agreement on December 31, just before the January deadline. No part of the deal could go into effect until all the parties had all agreed, DiNapoli said on the Capitol Pressroom in mid-December, calling the Research Foundation approval “the biggest sticking point.”

“As expected, all parties have signed the MOU and will be ready to enforce it this February,” wrote Jason Conwall, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email this week.

The agreement gives the state comptroller the authority to conduct “pre-audit” reviews of contracts procured by SUNY and CUNY and their affiliated construction funds, when they exceed $250,000. It also extends that authority over Office of General Services (OGS) centralized contracts over $85,000.

The memorandum also provides for the comptroller to send all executed contracts of $250,000 or more, with the exception of Common Retirement Fund contracts, to the state inspector general responsible for investigating fraud, corruption, and conflicts of interest in the executive branch and affiliated entities.

The new powers allow the comptroller to review contracts before they are executed to affirm that they are ethically and economically sound. During contract reviews, the comptroller’s office typically conducts due diligence to prevent fraud and waste, and promote competition. It looks at whether vendors have been found to engage in previous wrongdoing, prices for comparable goods and services elsewhere, and whether there are contract provisions that could increase an  agency’s liability.

The comptroller once had those powers for SUNY, CUNY, and OGS centralized contracts, but they were stripped with little public attention during budget negotiations in 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first year, as he sought to expand and expedite economic development.

In the mid-2010s when the Buffalo Billion scandal, in which bribes were exchanged for plum state construction contracts, implicated some of Cuomo’s closest allies and donors, good government advocates and DiNapoli himself called for the authority to be restored. Cuomo resisted. Lawmakers threatened legislative action, but nothing moved.

Then, during his 2019 State of the State speech, Cuomo surprised many by announcing that he and DiNapoli had agreed to pursue an agreement.

“Comptroller review may have prevented the $1 billion bid-rigging scandal involving upstate development projects resulting in the convictions of high-ranking state officials and major real estate and construction executives,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the good government group Reinvent Albany, in a statement commending the initial agreement in August.

The memorandum of understanding stipulates that SUNY will work with its Research Foundation to give the comptroller pre-audit review of contracts of $1 million or more. The Research Foundation includes SUNY-affiliated nonprofits Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road Management Corporation, which put out the rigged requests for proposals to build SolarCity, the $750 million solar panel plant at the center of the Buffalo Billion controversy and a key element in Cuomo’s signature upstate economic development agenda.

On the Capitol Pressroom in December, DiNapoli said, “I think the biggest piece that still has to be resolved is the SUNY Research Foundation has not taken the action to sign on...but I am very hopeful that once we get that SUNY piece closed down that we will actually be able to implement that more robust oversight that many people have called for and I think is overdue for us to have back.”

With the Research Foundation agreeing to the memorandum of understanding on December 31, it is now set to go into effect in February. While Ft. Schuyler and Fuller Road have been mired in controversy, the entity recently created to subsume and replace them, NY CREATES, is also covered under the agreement, according to DiNapoli’s office.

Unlike other powers that were restored in the deal, the state comptroller has never had pre-audit review authority over SUNY Research Foundation, the spokesperson said.

Cuomo has previously said that part of the reason for not restoring the comptroller’s power is the potential for delays in adding new bureaucratic hoops to jump through. The new agreement sets a time limit of 30 days for the comptroller’s pre-audit review, after which they become “valid and enforceable.” A report released by DiNapoli’s office last May, showed that the average contract review took between six and seven days.

In response to the Buffalo Billion scandal, state lawmakers introduced the Procurement Integrity Act to restore most of the comptroller’s pre-2011 authority, among other things. Year after year, it failed to gain enough traction to pass, but amid an ongoing drumbeat of criticism, especially after the convictions on corruption charges of two of his top former aides, Cuomo made the 2019 State the State announcement.

The agreement is voluntary and contains language stating it can be terminated within ten days by either the governor or comptroller. Good government advocates still want to see it codified into law.

“We hope momentum from completing this voluntary agreement continues and the Governor and Comptroller work together to pass a law in the 2020 session making the agreement permanent,” wrote Kaehny.

Neither codifying the agreement nor passing the Procurement Integrity Act were part of Cuomo’s very limited State of the State government ethics agenda, announced last week.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Final Signature Allows Implementation of Cuomo-DiNapoli Agreement to Restore Certain Contract Oversight Powers Thu, 16 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Letter to the Editor: The City’s Pattern of Evasion on Tech Contract https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9033-letter-to-the-editor-city-pattern-evasion-tech-contract https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9033-letter-to-the-editor-city-pattern-evasion-tech-contract roundtable br cityhall

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


To the Editor:

New York City’s Chief Procurement Officer, Dan Symon, didn’t address any of the questions we’ve been raising about the $30.5 million Ivalua e-procurement contract scandal in his recent Gotham Gazette op-ed responding to my earlier piece.

As Director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), he continues to protect those responsible for this flimflam and prevent them from being held accountable. 

If the city ran an “open competitive bidding process,” as Symon states, why not release public documents that prove it? Why shield them from the public for more than a year?

Our First Amendment attorney, Dave Schulz of Ballard Spahr, has repeatedly tried to contact MOCS Assistant General Counsel and Records Officer Janet Kim, but has not even gotten the courtesy of a reply. This is after several attempts of my own, leaving us with no choice but to retain legal counsel to help Checks & Balances Project obtain records about how this lucrative contract award first came to be. 

We’ve requested records from only two former MOCS employees but have repeatedly received automated emails that put off providing us with records due to the “complexity” of our request. Again, we’re asking for emails from only two accounts. 

Last year, we waited nine months to be told MOCS had no records. So, we simplified our request. Yet MOCS is referred to in the Ivalua contract 75 times and described as “the City’s central compliance and oversight agency for procurement.” 

There are serious questions that Symon doesn’t want to answer that we are determined to pursue on behalf of New York City taxpayers: 

Why was a French technology company that had never worked with any government in the U.S. given a $30.5 million contract by the largest municipality in the nation?

Was it because they partnered with powerful KPMG lobbyists who have deep ties to the Mayor and other city officials? 

Symon claims the original 2016 contract was expanded “based on the success of early system releases and the demand from our stakeholders.” In fact, when the contract was expanded by $15 million in 2018, the design wasn’t done and “executive sponsor” KPMG had been fired, according to the limited public records produced by DoITT. Isn’t it more likely that the $15 million was given to Accenture, who replaced KPMG?

Symon tries to discredit Dallas, Texas’ $49,900 e-procurement system, built by Bonfire Interactive of Canada. But consider that if one day Ivalua, Accenture, and MOCS do finally finish an end-to-end e-procurement system for the 40 agencies as originally promised, New York City taxpayers will pay more than $1 million per agency. That’s compared to about $3,300 per agency in Dallas. Both systems can handle $15 billion-plus in annual spending by city agencies, yet why does New York City’s system cost nearly 340 times more? 

We’re not arguing that an e-procurement system for New York City is a bad thing. But it is a bad thing if city taxpayers were ripped off by some kind of insiders’ deal. Public records should tell us if that’s true. Why won’t the city give them up?

Sincerely,
Scott Peterson, executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. On Twitter @CandBP.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Letter to the Editor: The City’s Pattern of Evasion on Tech Contract Tue, 07 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000