News & Resources

News and Resources

Op-Ed: NYC Must Address Inequality for its Human-Service Workforce

Thursday, February 12, 2015

UNH Executive Director Nancy Wackstein and Deputy Director for NYC Policy & Advocacy Gregory Brender penned an op-ed for City Limits in response to Mayor de Blasio's Preliminary FY16 Budget, mainly addressing the need for a meaningful increase in wages and benefits for the nonprofit workforce that helps make the Mayor's many initiatives, such as Universal Pre-K and expanded after school programs, a reality. 

Read the op-ed here. 

UNH Responds to Mayor's FY16 Preliminary Budget

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Statement of Nancy Wackstein
On Mayor de Blasio's FY16 Preliminary Budget

There is much to applaud in the Mayor’s preliminary budget proposal announced yesterday and in the administration's work over the past year to fight inequality.  United Neighborhood Houses and its member agencies – New York City’s settlement houses and community centers – are nonetheless disappointed that this budget proposal shortchanges the needs of many of the City's lowest paid workers, those in the nonprofit workforce.   Nonprofit employees are the people who work day in and day out to teach our children, care for our homeless people, and aid our older adults.  As the City moves forward in addressing income inequality they must not continue to be left out.
The preliminary budget is the first of two budget proposals the Mayor submits.  We call on Mayor de Blasio to include meaningful wage and benefit increases for the nonprofit workforce when he releases his Executive Budget this spring.
The Mayor rightfully takes credit for settling 71% of the City's outstanding open labor contracts he inherited.  However, employees of nonprofit human services agencies working under City contracts see the progress the City has made in other sectors and continue to ask why they, too, are not deserving of wage increases, bonuses or retroactive pay that the City’s unionized municipal workforce has received.  Unfortunately, little has changed for most of the nonprofit workforce even as they carry out and make real many of the Mayor’s succesful initiatives and top priorities.  This contrast is particularly stark for staff in city contracted child care programs whose responsibilities and qualifications are on par with teachers in the public schools, but are often paid tens of thousands of dollars less.  Most of these workers -- teachers, classroom assistants and other staff -- are women of color who  have not received a pay increase since 2006.
UNH member agencies, under extraordinarily tight deadlines, were thrilled to participate in the Mayor’s exciting new initiatives last year: we launched new pre-K programs, we kept community centers open last summer in New York City Housing Authority developments, we opened dozens of new middle school afterschool programs.  Yet when it comes to fairness and equity for our underpaid workers, New York City remains, sadly, a tale of two workforces.  The City must use this year's budget to end these disparities.
UNH is pleased to continue to support Mayor de Blasio and his administration as they expand programs important to low and moderate income communities, as outlined in the preliminary budget.  We are particularly pleased to see a continued commitment to expanding Pre Kindergarten and after school and  investments  proposed for:
·        the summer youth employment program;
·        rental subsidies for homeless families and  homelessness prevention activities;
·        Increased and improved training for child welfare workers;
·        summer programming for elementary school students;
·        Increasing the NYC minimum wage to $13.13/hour
These investments are critical.  Equally critical is an investment in the workers who will carry out these new and expanded initiatives in the coming years. 

New equivalence exams cause confusion, if not failure

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

UNH Deputy Director for New York State Policy and Advocacy, Kevin Douglas, and others in the settlement house network, are quoted addressing issues associated with the new high school equivalency tests. 

Read the full article here. 

UNH Responds to Mayor's State of the City Speech

Wednesday, February 04, 2015
United Neighborhood Houses applauds the proposals outlined in the Mayor’s State of the City speech today to create more affordable housing as the anchor for safe and stable neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.  As an organization that has been dedicated to creating safe, stable, economically integrated neighborhoods across NYC for over 90 years, we are particularly impressed with the Mayor’s understanding that strong neighborhoods must include affordable housing, but NOT ONLY affordable housing.   Access to parks, transportation, schools, shopping, and community centers also are key ingredients for successful neighborhood life and the sense of community that supports residents across the income spectrum.   UNH member agencies – settlement houses and community centers – provide important community services like child care, afterschool, senior centers that also are essential to the health and well-being of a neighborhood.  We look forward to working with the Mayor and his administration to make sure that every neighborhood in the City has the housing and social supports that create the kinds of neighborhoods every one of us would like to live in.   

Governor's FY2016 Budget: Progress, but still work to be done

Thursday, January 22, 2015
United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) applauds Governor Cuomo for several noteworthy aspects of his FY 2015-16 budget proposal, but remains deeply concerned with the overall lack of investment in human services, and policy proposals that fall short.

We welcome and largely support the Governor’s 10-point Anti-Poverty Opportunity Agenda.  In it, Governor Cuomo proposes dedicating significant resources to address the housing affordability and homelessness crises New Yorkers have been grappling with for years. However, on two other key fronts—addressing the State’s inadequate minimum wage and lack of capital resources for nonprofit human service organizations, the proposed budget does not go far enough. 
While pleased that the 10-point plan includes the nonprofit human services infrastructure fund UNH championed with our partners, the $50 million investment represents just a fraction of the $500 million we proposed as necessary to truly begin to address critical sector needs. In addition, while the Governor’s proposal of a statewide minimum wage of $10.50/hr. and $11.50/hr. in NYC appropriately recognizes regional cost of living differences, it falls short of the $13.13 city wage proposal that more closely tracks to the true cost of living in NYC, and was endorsed by the Governor last year. 

There are some bright spots in the Governor’s budget for our communities.  We welcome the $25 million proposal to pilot Pre-Kindergarten for three-year olds living in high need districts, which serves as an important step toward ensuring every child in the State has access to high quality early childhood education. The Governor is also right to continue advancing the concept of raising the age of criminal responsibility to the age of 18 in New York, and we support the $25 million proposed investment in diversion and probation services toward that end. UNH also welcomes the Governor’s support of the NY DREAM Act as an effective means for cultivating and harnessing the potential of all youth seeking a college education.  The passage of the NY DREAM Act should not be linked to the passage of unrelated education reforms.

In terms of the key funding sources nonprofits rely on to deliver services to their communities, the FY 2015-16 budget truly presents a mixed bag. As a result of the Governor’s imposed 2% cap on budget growth, the budget does not recognize the increased costs of providing human services over time— or the demand for them. Cuts to the Adult Literacy Education (ALE) program, Advantage Afterschool and the Youth Development Program (YDP) are harmful to NYC’s communities.  Once again, comprehensive cost of living adjustments to human service contracts were left out at a time when so many workers in our agencies are struggling to make ends meet. 

Further, at a time in which the older adult population in New York continues to rapidly expand and a pre-existing backlog for services exists, the level funding of the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program is tantamount to a cut that jeopardizes the State’s ability to help older adults age at home. In addition, while we welcome the Governor’s modest $2.5m enhancement to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), it does not fully reflect the costs associated with the change in the State minimum wage, nor does it allow growth in this highly successful and oversubscribed employment program. 

UNH remains committed to working with the Governor and legislature to ensure the final FY 2015-16 budget fully realizes it potential to support New Yorkers in need of human service programs and policies that promote their wellbeing and advancement.

Pre-K Providers Pressure de Blasio Over Salary Disparities

Thursday, January 15, 2015

By Eliza Shapiro

As City Hall gears up for the second year of its massive pre-kindergarten program, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will have to reckon with mounting pressure from community-based organizations about salary and benefit disparities that have long plagued the city’s early education programs.

C.B.O. providers, who operate pre-kindergarten classes in facilities that are not public schools, stayed relatively quiet during the lead-up to the pre-K rollout last fall, careful not to hedge their enthusiasm about the expansion of early childhood education. But they are now voicing significant concern about pay discrepancies, which can stretch to tens of thousands of dollars, between community center teachers and staff and their Department of Education counterparts.
Some of the administration's most reliable pre-K allies, rather than the charter school advocates and reform leaders who are regularly critical of the mayor's policies, are leading the push to address salary disparities. 

“We have the tale of two school systems right here in the early childhood field,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, which oversees 38 community organizations, many of which offer pre-K.
Salary and benefit disparities, she said, will be “a profound challenge going forward.”
D.O.E. pre-K teachers can make up to $91,000 with a masters’ degree and 20 years of experience. C.B.O. teachers with identical credentials can earn up to $50,000. D.O.E. teachers are represented by the United Federation of Teachers, and are eligible for new raises and benefits in the new U.F.T. contract.

After a relatively smooth launch in September,  which was hardly guaranteed, the administration has repeatedly stressed that the pre-K roll-out would be a two-year climb, with any initial hiccups addressed in year two.

The administration filled over 53,000 spots this year, and is planning to extend the program to 70,000 four-year-olds this fall, with C.B.O.s making up more than 60 percent of the city's 1,700 pre-K offerings. 

If C.B.O. providers and advocates get their way, the administration will hone in on salary disparities, which they consider to be perhaps the most substantial issue going forward.
C.B.O. teachers typically belong to either District Council 1707’s Local 205, which represents daycare employees, or the union’s Local 95, which represents Head Start employees. Some C.B.Os have both Local 205 and Local 95 employees.

Benefit disparities are another major issue, providers and advocates say. C.B.O. teachers typically work longer days, as centers are open into the evening hours to accommodate working parents, and teach year-round. Their public school peers usually get summers off, teach until mid-afternoon, and have better health insurance plans provided by the U.F.T.

The issue of pay disparity has come up repeatedly in recent months in an early childhood education task force run out of City Hall, according to several members of the task force. The group has been meeting regularly to oversee the pre-K rollout, and is expected to report its findings to de Blasio during the last week of January. The task force is run by deputy mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and Administration for Children’s Services commissioner Gladys Carrion to develop recommendations for the city’s early childhood education.

The administration moved to address the problem, which long predates de Blasio, last April, pledging $16.9 million of the $300 million dedicated pre-K funds to increase starting salaries for certified teachers in C.B.O.s.

Starting salaries for certified teachers at C.B.O.s with bachelors degrees were raised from about $35,000 to $44,000, and starting pay for certified teachers with masters degrees to $50,000. That's still slightly below the starting salary rate, $46,000, for D.O.E. teachers.
Advocates say the increases were helpful for child care employees, but haven’t been sufficient to accommodate the vast expansion of teaching staff.

David Nocenti, executive director of the Union Settlement Association in Harlem, which offers pre-K, pointed out that the increases didn’t account for more experienced teachers, or the many uncertified teaching assistants and staff members. And many Head Start teachers with bachelors degrees were already making the same  amount under their union contract.

“This is a single, high-quality system where four-year-olds are learning new multi-syllable vocabulary words, exploring through interactive science experiments and gaining critical interpersonal skills while making friends and engaging in meaningful play,” Devora Kaye, a D.O.E. spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We have made investments in training, given organizations new recruitment tools, and continue to provide ongoing resources to attract and retain the best teachers. Across every classroom we had a qualified lead instructor, and this will continue as we expand to new neighborhoods across the city. This is part of our profound commitment to giving every child a great early education, of which pre-K is the beginning."

Still, providers say they’ve lost students and some of their best teachers to D.O.E. schools due to the salary issues over the last year, as the scale of the pre-K roll-out has in some cases aggravated existing retention issues.

“What has typically happened in many cases is now exacerbated,” said Maria Collier, director of the Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation, a C.B.O. in Brooklyn. Pointing out that many C.B.O.s, like her’s, provide pre-K in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Collier said the salary disparities can lead to loss of teachers, putting low-income students at a greater disadvantage.

“Teachers will gain experience or study while they are at a C.B.O., and as soon as they get their credentials they will go to the D.O.E.,” Collier said. "It’s totally understandable because many of them graduate owing lots of money, but it puts the C.B.O. at an extreme disadvantage because you cannot compete with the D.O.E," she said. 

Collier said she was lucky to lose only a few teachers to the D.O.E., this summer, but she said her center was “scrambling” just before the first day of school to hit enrollment targets, as parents tried to game the system by applying to as many programs as possible, creating long and unreliable waitlists.
Another pre-K provider who asked not to be identified said her program lost several of its best teachers to the D.O.E., along with students whose parents had been promised that enrolling at a district pre-K spot would help guarantee Kindergarten admission at the same school.

“Some of our agencies really have seen an exodus of staff,” said Gregory Bender, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses.

Attrition has been a long-standing issue for C.B.Os, Collier and other providers said, but more students, teachers and programs have made the scope of the issue clearer.

“What the [rollout] revealed in stark terms was that the city has to have a better integrated early childhood system,” Bender said.

Different insurance plans for C.B.O. and D.O.E. staff have been another major disincentive for community-based teachers and staff, providers say.

Bender said as many as 60 percent of staff at some of the pre-K programs United Neighborhood Houses oversees have opted out of their health insurance plans due to the cost. Collier said several members of her staff, particularly custodial and kitchen staff, have also had to opt out of insurance plans.

The rollout has also shed light on another subtle layer of disparity that providers say is causing tension in their centers: salary differences between C.B.O. teachers providing pre-K to four-year-olds, and teachers who work with children 3 years old and under.

While C.B.O. teachers with master’s degrees and 20 years of experience who provide pre-K instruction can earn up to $50,000, child care providers who work with younger children earn less, only up to $39,500 at Cypress Hills, Collier said.

“When there is salary disparity within your own center, it magnifies dissatisfaction,” Collier said.
And while all parents of children in C.B.Os pay a basic fee for services, typically around $60 or $70, parents of younger children pay a larger amount.

The providers and advocates, most of whom have been longtime supporters of de Blasio and his early childhood goals, say they are grateful to have a mayor who recognizes the importance of pre-K, and all praised the initial rollout of the program.

The first year of the rollout was about “prying the door open,” said Nancy Kolben, the executive director of the Center for Children's Initiatives and a member of de Blasio's pre-K implementation working group. But, she added, “we have these two systems that should be aligned but aren’t there yet.” 

Voice Your Support - Here's How!

Friday, January 09, 2015
As advocacy season heats up, we wanted to share this fun and inspiring video created by UNH member University Settlement. Their adult literacy students will show you how to make a simple call to your City Council Member to voice your support for various issues or campaigns you may see UNH working on. Watch below!

Credit: Michael Hunter

Remembering Governor Mario M. Cuomo

Monday, January 05, 2015

United Neighborhood Houses mourns the passing of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo.  Mario Cuomo understood the power of settlement houses to stabilize and heal communities, starting with his involvement in the creation of UNH member agency Queens Community House (formerly Forest Hills Community House) in the l970s.  Prior to entering electoral politics, Mario Cuomo helped negotiate the end to a bitter community dispute in Forest Hills, Queens over a proposal to locate public housing there.  One part of the solution was to create a community services agency that would serve the entire community, regardless of race, income or status.   His vision became Forest Hills Community House, which continues to do the fine work Governor Cuomo imagined they would be able to do.  Governor Mario Cuomo continued to support settlement houses and community agencies providing essential services over the course of his long career leading our State government.  We are grateful for that support.  He will be missed.  

The DYCD “Haves” vs the “Have-Nots”

Friday, December 05, 2014

One of the most significant problems which providers faced as part of this year’s Summer Initiative was the wide disparity in funding levels between the 70 DYCD Cornerstone programs, which received approximately $90,000 to cover the costs of expanded hours and programming, and the 37 NYCHA-operated and nonprofit-sponsored NYCHA centers, which received only one third of that amount, little more than $30,000.

“The inequity in funding between DYCD Cornerstone and non-DYCD sites was a real problem,” says UNH’s Gregory Brender.  “The non-DYCD-funded providers were not able to offer the same quality services with the lower funding levels.  Unless more money is put into to the budget, we will face the same problem next year.”

Read the full article here.

Mayor’s Summer Surge in Youth Services Keeps City Peaceful

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Heading into the summer of 2014, New York City’s tabloids were predicting a law and order meltdown. Mayor Bill de Blasio had halted the Bloomberg administration’s policy of rampant and seemingly random “Stop and Frisk” searches of youth in minority neighborhoods.  And, the Daily News and New York Post claimed the result was a surge in shootings across the City.  By early June, the number of shootings was up 13% compared to a year earlier– although experts argued whether stopping “Stop and Frisk” had anything to do with the surge and actual murders were hitting a 50-year low. Nevertheless, with the end of the school year coming, the possibility of a long, hot summer was becoming a significant source of public concern… even for the new administration itself.

On July 8th, the Mayor responded by announcing a major $210 million initiative “to make the City’s neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime”, particularly in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.  While most of the funding went to repairs, maintenance and security enhancements at NYCHA buildings – as well as redeployment of 200 police officers -- the new initiative also included a $15.6 million allocation of new funding to expand community center activities and other key programs in NYCHA projects this summer.

Read the full article here.