The UNH Blog

UNH Responses to Fiscal Year 2015 State Budget

Tuesday, April 01, 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.

Dear Mr. Mayor

Monday, January 06, 2014
Dear Mr. Mayor,

Our favorite word this year has been "neighborhoods" and we hope it becomes yours too. In the run-up to the November Mayoral election, UNH co-hosted a Mayoral Candidates Forum on Neighborhoods and published the "Blueprint for Neighborhoods", a collection of over 50 policy recommendations to inform the strategies of the next Mayor and other City leaders.

Mr. Mayor, please consider this list just a starting point, but here are our three simple wishes for a better New York.

1. Support quality educational investments for children and young people, including expanding access to child care and after school programs, and enhancing quality in all schools.

2. Enhance New Yorkers' ability to enter and succeed in the workforce, with scaled up investment in community-based adult education and training programming and expanded employment opportunities for New Yorkers of all ages.

3. Build and sustain healthy and inclusive communities by funding community-based preventive programs to address health, homelessness, immigrant integration, and to keep older adults in the neighborhoods they love.

Best wishes for a great new year!
United Neighborhood Houses

In Response to "Neighbors, Yet Worlds Apart"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ginia Bellafante’s brilliant and insightful New York Times “Big City” column last Sunday titled  Neighbors, Yet Worlds Apart, is the right thinking at the right time.  Her column was subtitled “DeBlasio Could Help the Rich See the Poor Living Next Door”, and she cites settlement houses as an idea to help bridge the distance between rich and poor that “ought to be more than archival”.  Well, guess what?  They are.  Settlement houses remain practically the only places in NYC – besides the subway – where people from different classes regularly might meet and talk as part of a single community.  Today’s contemporary NYC settlement houses – there are 38 in all – are devoted to community building that includes all of us in a variety of ways.  Yes, their services are mainly targeted to low and moderate income people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford market-rate child care, after school programs, summer camps, legal assistance, mental health care or housing… but they also are places that middle class people use as well.  They are true “community centers”, centers of community life.  When I ran a settlement house on Manhattan’s East Side, it was not unusual to see a banker or lawyer walking in our front door to swim or play basketball at the very same moment a homeless person might be coming through that same front door to meet with her social worker.  In many settlement houses around the city this sort of mixing happens on a daily basis, because when high quality educational, arts, recreational and social services are made available in a welcoming place all kinds of people will want to use them.  The stigma of being categorized as a “poor people’s service” or a” poor people’s place” is removed.  So indeed the settlement house model has changed since it was founded in the late l800s:  middle and upper class staff and volunteers no longer live at the houses with the poorer people they aim to help.  But the basic premise remains:  that settlement houses can offer a place for all to meet and partake of the richness of getting to know each other… as part of a single community.

One Year After Hurricane Sandy

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and the surrounding region with unprecedented force and impact.  It therefore seems like a good moment to remember the heroic way in which UNH member agencies -- NYC settlement houses and community centers – led efforts to provide immediate relief and how they continue to help their communities recover.  For visual representation, check out this short UNH video that we debuted at our fundraiser a week ago and that has some great  images of this work.    

Looking back on my 11 years at UNH, I can think of no other event that highlighted more powerfully the importance and absolutely essential role that settlement houses and neighborhood centers play in the life of our city.  It was, in fact, UNH member agencies who turned out to be the on-the-ground first responders… before government relief agencies arrived, before the NYC Housing Authority understood what was going on, even before the Red Cross came in.  Why?  Because our agencies are locally-based, with deep roots in their neighborhoods, with deep understanding of who their neighbors are and what their neighbors need.  They knew who the poor and vulnerable people were in their neighborhoods BEFORE the storm hit … and they have made sure AFTER the storm moved out that these folks would not be left behind when the emergency relief workers had moved on to the next disaster. Today, our agencies remain at the forefront of recovery efforts.  NYC settlement houses and community centers remain devoted not only to rebuilding physical infrastructure, but to rebuilding the human infrastructure as well, the lives of residents whose well-being defines a healthy community. Just as they have done for decades. 

 I have never been more proud of the work our agencies do than I was in the post-Sandy period. 

NYC Children Deserve Early Childhood Education

Monday, June 03, 2013

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said “Study after study has shown the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does  down the road.”  At United Neighborhood Houses, New York City’s federation of settlement houses and community centers, our member agencies have seen how true this is as they are among major nonprofit providers of child care in the City.  Child after child, we have seen that early learning gives children the tools they will need to succeed in school.  We have also seen how child care gives parents the support they need to find and keep their jobs.

And sadly, we have seen what happens when child care subsidies are cut.  We have heard from so many parents who are working hard to support their young children and who may lose the subsidies they rely on.  They are proud of the progress their kids are making:  how quickly they are growing, how much they are learning, how they are making friends with other pre-schoolers and seeing their teachers as role models. All parents want to see their kids keep learning and growing.  And yet despite the demand from parents and the growing consensus that early childhood education is essential, child care subsidies are at risk of being cut in this year’s New York City budget.  In fact, more than 47,000 children in New York City are at risk of losing child care or after-school.

President Obama has put forward a bold plan to expand early childhood education.  This plan includes investments  in State Pre-K programs, Head Start and Early Head Start.  President Obama’s plan calls for states and localities to build comprehensive systems that ensure the availability of high quality early childhood education for young children from low and moderate income families.

We must respond to this plan by building, stabilizing and strengthening early childhood education in states and localities across the country.  We need to not just fight cuts at the City level but increase investments so that programs have the resources to pay qualified staff to run top quality programs.  We need to expand the capacity of our early childhood systems so that no child loses out on the opportunity for an early childhood education.  

America’s children deserve a high quality early childhood education and President Obama has put forward a bold plan that can bring the benefits of high quality child care and early childhood education to more children.  We call on Congress and local policymakers to ensure that this bold and necessary vision becomes a reality for our children.  

In Defense of "Pork": Why Community Agencies Need Discretionary Funding

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Whether called “discretionary funding” as the NYC City Council does,  “member items” as the NYS Legislature does, or “earmarks” as the US Congress does, there is a general sense that something stinks about these grants, that there is something vaguely un-kosher about them (is this why they’re called “pork”?), that they represent misuse of public funds at best, a complete scam at worst.   

The public has come to believe that elected officials are rewarding friends and satisfying their own ambitions by delivering such largesse to nonprofit agencies in their communities.  And indeed, when the elected officials are dishonest or the nonprofits receiving these grants have been set up as fake fronts by the elected officials, then certainly this is a huge problem that further undermines the public’s trust in government. 

But I submit that the real issue is INTEGRITY, not discretionary funding.  Honest elected officials and legitimate nonprofits working together can and do use the discretionary funding process to actually protect and enhance a myriad of important community services and to keep critical programs like English classes for immigrants, senior centers for the elderly and afterschool programs for children open.


I know this to be true based on the experience of the 38 legitimate, tested and trusted nonprofit community service agencies serving over half a million New Yorkers each year that comprise the membership of United Neighborhood Houses.    

Some may ask why a discretionary grant process should be necessary at all.  Aren’t most nonprofit agencies already supported through government contracts and private donors?  The answer is that government contracts today do not provide even close to 100% of the real cost of providing services, so nonprofits must supplement those contracts through either private funding from foundations, corporations or individuals, or through additional public support.  The designated grants from elected officials called “pork” are one important way for these agencies to keep their doors open and their services running.  Until such a time comes where contracts fully fund services, nonprofit agencies will have to look elsewhere to keep themselves whole.   Moreover, competent and honest local elected officials actually do know better than central governments about local community needs and can target funding accordingly. 

But the key is integrity on both sides.  When the elected official is honest and the nonprofit is legitimate there is nothing wrong with “pork”.  In fact, such funding has become of critical importance as the era of diminished, unreliable and inadequate government contractual support has emerged.   

Call it “pork” if you must.  I call it essential for the health of our communities and our nonprofit sector.