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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.

This Week in Education with SCAN New York

Friday, October 17, 2014


UNH member SCAN New York was featured on Red Rabbit's blog for their pilot project to develop a plan for resident-driven initiatives to increase access to and use of fresh healthy food in NYCHA communities. This project is funded by The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund in partnership with UNH. 

Learn more about SCAN's project here! 

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.

Settlement House Day

Friday, April 18, 2014


On Friday, April 11, United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) hosted the first-ever Settlement House Day, an all-day conference for staff from UNH’s 38 member agencies. Over 200 attendees convened at University Settlement’s Houston Street Center for workshops, panel discussions, and networking opportunities to help develop new skills and connect with the settlement house movement.

The theme of the day was the “Settlement House Advantage”, addressing the innovative ways in which settlement houses help New York City’s residents. The conference offered 15 panels, with topics including: utilizing older adults as valuable resources, models for using arts and culture to build community, how to increase healthy food access, and running a successful capital campaign, and more. Calling upon the strength of the UNH network, all the panelists were settlement house staff, sharing strategies in community engagement and service delivery in all five boroughs. 

A lunchtime session, “How Are We Doing: A Sneak Peek at Research Documenting the Settlement House Advantage”, introduced a unique collaboration between a working group of UNH member Associate Executive Directors and an external researcher, Dr. Mimi Abramovitz from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to quantify the impact of settlement houses on their surrounding communities. 

Nancy Wackstein, UNH Executive Director, said, “The impetus for all of us at UNH and for all of the volunteer panelists to come together for Settlement House Day  was to do something that would give the staff of settlement houses, who work day in and day out in their communities, a sense that they are appreciated and that the work they do is extremely valuable.”

Special thanks to Aramark for graciously donating food and beverage for this event.



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. 

Settlement Houses Are an Essential Component of the Social Safety Net

Friday, January 04, 2013

UNH was asked by IBM to participate on their “Citizen IBM” blog, and our Executive Director Nancy Wackstein posted an entry, linked below.  It focuses on the important role settlement houses play in providing a  social safety net, 100 years ago and today. 

Read the post here>>

UNH in Stockholm

Saturday, May 26, 2012
Ken Walters, Director of Members Services, represented UNH, alongside Executive Directors and other staff from 5 UNH member agencies, at the 2012 International Federation of Settlements Conference in Stockholm. Ken and Michele Buono, Associate Director of Programs at Goddard Riverside Community Center, co-presented  on the Settlement House Advantage survey. The survey, developed by UNH agency Associate Executive Directors in partnership with Dr. Mimi Abramovitz, the Reynolds Professor of Social Policy at Hunter College, is designed to explore the impact of the settlement house model of providing services and strengthening communities, and assess the extent to which program participants do and do not experience or benefit from it. The survey is currently being administered to program participants at UNH member agencies.

Board Leadership Meeting for UNH Member Agencies

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On March 13th, UNH convened a meeting of the Board leadership of our 37 member settlement houses. UNH Board President Lew Kramer chaired this successful meeting, which brought together over 60 Board leaders and Executive Directors from member agencies for the first time in several years.

UNH Executive Director Nancy Wackstein opened the session with an overview of the UNH network of agencies as it exists today, as well as current and emerging challenges facing settlement houses in the current economic and political climate. She also highlighted for Board members some recent notable trends that have had an impact on UNH members.  For example, that City government has in the last several years  been focused on “economies of scale”, with procurement policies favoring larger citywide or borough-wide contracts rather than community-based ones;  this trend obviously challenges the settlement house approach.  Additionally, she discussed recent City requests for proposals (RFPs) that target specific zip codes as high need areas but will as a result  exclude or limit certain communities of need, especially those that serve public housing residents, from City funding opportunities.

Board leaders expressed their commitment to getting personally involved in convincing elected and government officials to maintain services that keep services community-based and allow families to continue working and contributing to New York City’s economy. There was a consensus in the room that this influential group of business leaders will be important to strengthening the voice of UNH and its membership. Board leaders pledged to become more involved with UNH’s advocacy work. UNH will also be creating a private social network for Board leaders to share best practices and other information across the settlement house community.

The Settlement House Movement Resurgent

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
 The New York Nonprofit Press published an op-ed co-written by UNH Executive Director Nancy Wackstein and Executive Director of UNH Member University Settlement Society, Michael Zisser. This piece was a response to the recent closing of the historical Hull House in Chicago, one of the premiere settlement houses in this country, and tells the positive story about the effectiveness of settlement houses in recent decades in NYC.

"...The right story to tell is not about the unique issues confronting Hull House, which may never be fully known to the public, but instead about the incredible inventiveness, creativity, innovation, efficiency and effectiveness that has characterized the settlement house movement in recent decades. In New York City, there are now more than 37 independent settlement houses and community centers, which make up the membership of United Neighborhood Houses of New York. These  non-profit organizations serve more than 500,000 people each year across the five boroughs, operate from more than 400 sites, employ more than 10,000 staff, and have an aggregate budget from a combination of public and private sources that exceeds half a billion dollars each year.   UNH members are major employers in their communities and in many cases are significant economic engines, as well, through their purchase of goods and services."

Read the full op-ed.