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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.

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. 


Youth, Advocates and Elected Leaders Rally at City Hall for Jobs Program

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Campaign Launches Effort to Create 100,000 Summer Youth Jobs

New York, NY (May 20, 2014) – Today supporters of the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) spoke out about the current youth unemployment crisis and their desire to see the successful jobs program expanded. The six-week, minimum-wage part-time program is open to youth between the ages of 14-24, with some 36,000 participating each summer. However, advocates from the Campaign for Summer Jobs point to the 100,000 other youth who are turned away from the program every year for lack of funding.

Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York (UNH) stated, “With 100,000 youth turned away every year from the Summer Youth Employment Program, the City must do more. We know well the benefits of helping young people to engage in a positive work experience over the summer months: it’s good for them, good for their families, good for their communities and good for the economy. As a leader of the Campaign for Summer Jobs for the past fifteen years, UNH looks forward to working with the new administration and City Council to expand SYEP to serve 100,000 youth by 2018.”

Gigi Li, Co-Chair of the Campaign, said her organization, the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition (NFSC), is fully behind the effort: “NFSC is proud to embark on a 5 year expansion plan to reach 100,000 SYEP slots in 5 years. Reaching this goal will be a win-win-win for youth, families, and CBOs throughout all of our neighborhoods. These additional jobs represent investment in young people and economic development for communities throughout New York City.”

The vision of the Campaign is for the program to be able to serve at least 100,000 youth each summer, within the next five years, and they are calling on the Mayor and City Council to invest an additional $14.2 million this year as a first step. Many members of the City Council seem to agree the time is now.

“The young people of our communities understand the benefits of staying on a positive path and, when given an opportunity, will choose to participate in constructive activities rather than fall subject to negative influences on our streets. Our children want to work to be independent, to save for college, and to support their families,” stated Council Member Mathieu Eugene, Chair of the City Council’s Youth Services Committee. “The Summer Youth Employment Program is often the first time that many young New Yorkers are able to create a real resume, to gain work experience in a desired career field, and to be exposed to the routine of being fully employed. Investing in the Summer Youth Employment Program is an investment in the futures of our young people. I applaud the efforts of the Campaign for Summer Jobs and will continue to support them in their efforts to expand this program to more of our youth.”

Jennifer March, Executive Director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York added “For the youth who are lucky enough to literally win the SYEP lottery, a summer job helps them gain critical work experience and learn about financial management, as well as provides them and their families with additional income that is then a boost to the local economy. A five year plan to reach 100,000 youth each summer is an immeasurable investment for today’s youth—who are tomorrow’s workforce.”

Recently the program faced the threat of fewer jobs as a result of declining federal and private support, as well as the recent hike in the state minimum wage. Although advocates say they supported the increase from $7.25/hr. to $8.00/hr., they say the increase also means more dollars are needed to maintain the jobs program.

Council Member Margaret Chin, a member of the Youth Services Committee, supports the effort to expand the program, and recalled her own days as a youth worker: “When I was seventeen, I participated in SYEP, so I know from personal experience the importance of having paid summer work experience. In today’s world, summer jobs have become a necessary experience for our young persons to learn important skills that will enable them to find employment after graduation. We are glad that the city and state have committed funds to continuing the Summer Youth Employment program this year, but it is important that the city, state, and private sector commit resources to begin expanding the program so that 100,000 youth can participate each year.”

Several youth leaders at the Campaign launch described the value of the program in their own words. Ricardo Luciano, a 17 year old senior at The Children's Aid Society's Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, added “As a young person myself, I understand the importance of having a good resume to present to future employers. Every day, I see my peers struggle to find jobs. I see them struggle to be taken seriously. As young proactive adults, we want to be able to provide for not only ourselves, but for those we care for.”

Leaders from the City’s non-profit sector say they came together because they see the difference the program makes is real, and long term. Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) said “FPWA is proud to support the Campaign for Summer Jobs’ proposal to expand SYEP for our City’s young people. Given that youth between 16 and 24 years of age have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment, increasing investments in the SYEP program will help to propel them towards economic mobility and security. We strongly urge the City to embrace the expansion plan so we may reach the goal of 100,000 SYEP jobs over the next five years.”

Her remarks were supported by the testimony of one youth who says her SYEP experience led directly to additional employment. Stephanie Ruiz, a senior at Fort Hamilton High School who participated in SYEP through Center for Family Life in Sunset Park in the summer of 2013, now works for the agency: “After the summer, I got hired for the school year after school program, working in the office. During the school year more doors opened for me and I started working as an Assistant Group Leader. It changed the person I was for better. I learned how to communicate, how to work with and help kids, and how to really challenge myself. One of the most important skills I learned was leadership. I never thought that I would be a leader to anyone, and now I believe I am—I learned that I was capable of speaking out and to using my voice.”

In the City Council’s response to Mayor de Blasio’s first Preliminary Budget released in February of this year, they called on his administration to invest an additional $14.2 million in SYEP in order to create 10,000 new Summer Jobs. Underscoring the need for these resources, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who sits on the Council’s Youth Services Committee, stated “The Summer Youth Employment Program empowers youth ages 14-24 to secure employment and obtain skills that they can utilize in their academic and professional careers. New York City youth and young adults rely on this program, which has undergone a steady decline of job opportunities. It is imperative that we preserve and expand the capacity of this program by increasing city, state, and federal funding to ensure that all of our youth can learn financial responsibility, contribute to the economic development of our city and state, while serving their communities.”

Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) also supports the expansion, stating that “Summer employment is a major opportunity for growth among our youth population. I join my colleagues and all of the advocates here today in calling for the City's budget include all the 46,000 Summer Youth Employment slots so that children have the chance to both earn money and learn about responsibility over the summer."

With the Council and Mayor now engaged in budget negotiations that must yield a final agreement by July 1, 2015, the message from 20 year old Christina Lantigua, a group leader with one of SCO Family of Services’ summer camps is short and sweet: “So I ask you Council Members, go back to the Mayor, look over the budget and find the money to increase jobs in the Summer Youth Employment Program.”

Nancy Wackstein reflects on the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I’m very glad I went to Vancouver last week!

Last week I journeyed across the continent to beautiful Vancouver in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada.  The reason I went was to participate in the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements, a worldwide group of nonprofit organizations (typically called NGOs, or non-governmental organizations in countries outside the USA) that do similar work to the settlement houses and community centers of New York City that are members of the organization I lead, United Neighborhood Houses of NY.    In other places – Canada and Europe for example – most typically these organizations are called neighbourhood houses or neighbourhood centres.

I have to confess that I hardly ever go to professional conferences, jaded New Yorker that I am, as they take up a lot of time, cost a lot of money and very rarely turn out to be worth these expenditures in terms of knowledge gained or professional relationships created. But I must say, I was glad I went to Vancouver! 

Why?  There was a powerful and consistent theme running throughout the three full days of this conference, and it brought me back, in some way, to the very roots of our settlement house “place-based” work.  The theme – in short - was how important the authentic engagement of neighbors in the work of every community-based nonprofit organization truly is, and how much we’ve lost our way as many agencies have moved toward a “service delivery” model.

Too often we who run organizations that serve forget to genuinely involve neighbors, community residents, clients or do so as an afterthought.  Too often we give lip service to the views of the people who use our services but then go our own way when it comes to program planning and proposal writing. Too often we say we engage in community-building activities but we forget the first principle of successful community organizing, to listen to and engage the members of the community.  Too often we come to believe our own jargon: we say we use “strengths-based” or “assets-based” approaches but fail to see the potential contributions of society’s marginalized people, those with mental illness or dysfunctional families… or who are just poor.

In workshop after workshop in Vancouver I felt and heard the message that this must change and it really resonated with me.  Without genuinely involving the people who are affected by our policies and programs we will ultimately fail or simply become passive arms of government.  Conversely, when we work hard to involve community members in our work – and it is surely time-consuming, underfunded and just plain hard to do so – we ultimately will have agencies that better fulfill their missions and are more creative and innovative as well. 

A brilliant conference plenary speaker, John McKnight, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University, noted that the goal of organizations like ours should be to try to “move people from clients to citizens” by helping to uncover their capacities.  To look at what can they teach us and what agendas they can help us set.  McKnight asked: how can we “enable their power to give” vs. “serving” them?  In essence, how can we who have defined ourselves as service providers “help ordinary people become extraordinary?”  I just love that notion.  And I thank my colleagues from around the world who gathered in Vancouver last week for reminding me of these basic and essential truths.

UNH responds to FY 15 State Budget

Monday, March 31, 2014

Although there remains tremendous unmet need in services for New York City’s children, youth, immigrants and older adults, United Neighborhood Houses is pleased that the NYS FY2015 budget includes several positive investments that will improve the lives of residents in vulnerable and low income communities. The investment of $300 million to make Universal Pre-K truly universal in New York City is a historic victory for New York City's children and families. In addition, the $34m expansion in the Child Care Block Grant (CCBG) will also help ensure that parents are able to go to work while their children are in safe settings. We are encouraged by the $5m increased investment in the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program which will allow greater numbers of older adults to age with dignity in their homes, and also applaud the $1m expansion to the Settlement House Initiative, which provides settlement houses with the flexibility to meet evolving community needs.

However, UNH is deeply disappointed in the failure of leadership that resulted in the DREAM Act not being included in the final budget. As a result, thousands of immigrant youth without documentation through no fault of their own will continue to face significant financial barriers to pursuing a higher education after succeeding in high school. This represents a missed opportunity for New York to capitalize on their talents and potential. In addition, by not investing greater resources in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and the transition from the GED® to the Common Core-aligned TASC™ examination, immigrants seeking to improve their English skills, and other adult education students hoping to earn their high school equivalency diploma will continue to face class shortages.

Also of significant concern to UNH is the nominal increased investment in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). While the $2.5m increase will help retain some youth jobs, thousands more will be lost in NYC at a time when over 100,000 youth in the City are already turned from the program annually, as the State did not fully account for the impact of the increased minimum wage on the program.

Email Eling Tsai at etsai@unhny.org for more information.
www.unhny.org

UNH Gives New Leaders a Blueprint for Neighborhoods

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
In June, UNH released the Blueprint for Neighborhoods, a series of recommendations for the next Mayor to comprehensively strengthen neighborhoods. Through the Blueprint, UNH advocated for quality human services that meet the needs of all New Yorkers. Based on the settlement house core belief that community residents know what they need best, the Blueprint was built on a series of visioning sessions, where UNH learned of their concerns and what would make a difference in their lives. UNH released the report at a policy briefing attended by 80 advocates and policy makers and spread the Blueprint's message throughout the 2013 City election races, including co-hosting a Mayoral forum attended by 250 businesses and community leaders.