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.

UNH Response to Senate Bill

Friday, March 14, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) is pleased that the Assembly and Senate have each produced budget resolutions that include support for several key programming areas that vulnerable New Yorkers rely on, and that both houses of the legislature are  now united in support of the New York City plan to expand Pre-Kindergarten and After-School. Together, the two houses will make UPK truly universal and provide every middle school student access to an after-school slot. Under the leadership of Speaker Silver, the Assembly’s budget resolution includes NYC’s financing plan for Universal Pre-Kindergarten and After-School expansion, $25m to support implementation of the DREAM Act, and expanded investment in innovative Settlement House programming used to meet complex neighborhood needs.

We are also encouraged by Senate Co-Leaders Klein and Skelos’s work to produce a budget resolution that increases investments in critical areas including a $4.7m expansion in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and $1.0m to support the High School Equivalency (HSE) transition to the Common Core, an additional $5.0m to serve older adults through Community Services for the Elderly (CSE),  and expanded eligibility for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC). In addition, the Senate resolution commits to fully funding NYC’s plan to universalize Pre-Kindergarten and expand After-school for middle school students.

We remain disappointed, however, that that additional funding to account for the increase in the minimum wage was not included for the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) in either budget resolution. Without this funding there will be 2,750 fewer jobs for young people in NYC this summer. In addition, the Senate’s failure to include any funding for the DREAM Act is a tremendous letdown for the thousands of hard-working young DREAMers who will continue to find college out of reach.

UNH now calls on Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver, and Senate Co-Leaders Klein and Skelos to ensure the State’s final budget bill includes support for all of these programs that our communities need to be safe, stable, and vibrant.

Blueprint for Neighborhoods

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Tuesday, UNH will release a new report, a “Blueprint for Neighborhoods” that outlines policy recommendations for the next Mayor that will help keep New York City  neighborhoods strong, stable and vibrant.   One of its key points is that the human services the government pays nonprofits to provide in communities across the city are as essential as other municipal services like police, fire and sanitation.  While these “uniformed services” are always included in Mayoral budgets and, in fact, often receive increases in their spending authorization, services that are equally important to community health and well-being, like child care, afterschool programs, English classes and senior centers, continue to be cut and continue to rely on reduced, unpredictable, often one-year funding.  This approach not only jeopardizes the stability of the nonprofit agencies the City relies on to deliver these services, it puts entire neighborhoods at risk.   

When New Yorkers turn on their light switches they expect the electricity to flow.  When they open their faucets, they expect the water to rush out.   These are utilities that we have come to count on.  Similarly, we need to provide “social utilities” to the many hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who need predictable child care and senior care, to name but two.  When an older adult walks down the block,  she needs to know the doors of her senior center are still open.  When a young mother looks for affordable child care, she needs to know there will be a spot for her child in her neighborhood.   It is time to start treating these services as “discretionary”.  They are not.  Just like police and sanitation, they are part of what makes New York City a strong, stable and livable city. 

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.  

What Actually is an Essential Municipal Service?

Friday, June 29, 2012

UNH was thick in the fight to restore City-funded child care and after school programs this year in response to the Mayor’s budget proposal …. which would have gutted these services.  The families that use these programs are primarily low-income but working, often at more than one job.  These programs clearly support the economy of the City as well as the ability of individual families to be self-sufficient.  Without changes, the Mayor’s proposed budget would have reduced the number of children enrolled in these programs by a staggering 47,000.    

Happily, the City budget agreement this week between the City Council and the Mayor contains unprecedented restorations to ameliorate these unprecedented cuts.  UNH and the Campaign for Children were very pleased with this news, and I believe our advocacy was instrumental in accomplishing this restoration of $150 million. 

However,  after a couple of days of musing, one does begin to think about the absurdity of it all.  Months of effort by hundreds of people, both inside and outside of City government, to restore funding that SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK IN THE FIRST PLACE.  Why? Would the Mayor ever have imagined imposing a 50% cut to the Police, Fire or Sanitation Departments?  Then why was it OK to cut these EQUALLY ESSENTIAL services for children? 

I’m a lifelong New Yorker.  Yes, I like my garbage picked up, my streets lit, my local police precinct fully staffed.  These municipal services make New York a livable place and a City that works.   But so do support services for working families like child care and after school!  So I really must wonder why child care and after school programs for kids are lower on the hierarchy of priorities than other municipal services.  Because they’re mainly used by low income people, not all of us?

We cannot run another Campaign for Children like this next year.  We must get to the point where these services – and senior centers and supported housing and mental health too – are understood to be as essential to the future health and vibrancy of New York City as police, fire and sanitation.


Settlement Houses: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
These are my remarks from the UNH Annual Meeting, held on June 12 at Hudson Guild: 

Even though I am now blogging, I am no novelist, so I will borrow without shame from the great Charles Dickens. For NYC settlement houses, these are the best of times and the worst of times.

The best because our agencies continue to be recognized as innovators and leaders in the City in pursuing new approaches to helping those in need and starting new initiatives that build on their history of helping communities by providing holistic and comprehensive services. In fact, the settlement house approach - now called place-based by the Obama administration among others - has re-emerged among policymakers and thinkers in our field as the best answer to addressing poverty. Though generally calling themselves something other than "settlement houses", the most effective nonprofits doing community work today are using our experience and our lessons and building on our successes. They have learned what we already have demonstrated: that piecemeal strategies don't work, because in reality people's lives are not fragmented into separate buckets the way funding and government agencies are. Whether housing, child care, recreation, physical and mental health... these are all the things that most people need, and most of the time they are best delivered when found locally in friendly welcoming places staffed by people who look like them.

The locavore movement in food has become so popular in NYC today that it's hard to find a restaurant that's not calling itself "farm to table". Settlement houses are the locavore institutions of the social services field! We have the freshest approaches because we are closest to the ground. We know the problems that are emerging, we know the problems that are not going away, and we involve local people in trying to solve them.

But all is not coming up roses. (I guess it's time for me to stop this metaphor!) These also are the most difficult and challenging times for our field that I've experienced in my over 30 years doing this work... the worst of times indeed.

The landscape under us shifts continually: new trends in funding; new accountability demands pressing for results; ever more complex reporting requirements to both private donors and government funders; new types of government RFPs with new kinds of mandates.

But perhaps the most challenging reality for settlement houses and other nonprofits today is the shifting commitment we are facing toward helping people in need, especially regarding the role of government in doing so.

The widespread questioning of the historic social contract and the role of government in supporting and maintaining a safety net for low income families and individuals is being fueled by government deficits at the city, state, and federal levels. These are forcing choices about priorities, with services for low income people often caught in the squeeze of deficit reduction. 

I do not believe that these debates will be solved anytime soon, meaning that the pressures on nonprofits will not recede anytime soon either. Both agencies and communities will increasingly feel the impact of funding retrenchment.

A real life example of this threat is the proposed deep City reductions to both child care and after school currently part of the Mayor's budget for the new fiscal year. For decades these programs have been part of the core services offered by settlement houses. In fact, many of the earliest settlement houses in the 1890s got their start as providers of child care to immigrant working families.

Right now, both the early childhood and after school care systems will be reduced dramatically if the cuts contained in the Mayor's budget proposal go through, not only threatening the stability of our member agencies, but the stability of thousands of working families as well.

We must hope that these cuts to core services are not the tip of the iceberg of even worse government budget actions to come, but we must be prepared if it is. There is real urgency about making the case that increased need in communities and increased demand for settlement house help will not go away. We must use facts like these:
  • 1/3 of NYC children live in poverty
  • 40% of NYC households are immigrants, with 2/3 of public school students from immigrant families
  • 1 in 8 New Yorkers are 65 & older; by 2030, 1 in 5 will be older adults
I believe that UNH agencies, when provided with the proper support, are uniquely situated to address the needs of the low income and immigrant population of New York.

Our network today:
  • Is 37 agencies across 5 boroughs
  • Serves 500,000 New Yorkers ever year at over 400 program sites
  • Employs 10,000 staff and 7,500 volunteers
  • Has an aggregate budget of one-half billion dollars, in both private and public funds
But in order to adequately serve people in need in communities across the 5 boroughs our agencies will continue to need both government support to maintain core services and a flow of private and corporate dollars in order to continue to innovate and try new approaches.

I believe these perilous times demand that UNH continue to be the strongest possible voice for the importance of helping all the members of our communities. Yes, those who are in crisis and experiencing homelessness or mental illness, those affected by domestic violence or child abuse, those who are living on the precipice must be our priority if we are to call ourselves a humane and civilized society... but we cannot forget those ordinary people just looking to support their families, who need help finding decent jobs, child care, after school, and elder care. 

Settlement houses recognize that people have their ups and downs and are determined to be there for them when they fall. But in order to function as our City's safety net, our agencies must continue to have access to the kind of support that will allow them to sustain themselves... in the best of times and in the worst of times as well. 

Parents Speak!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


It shouldn’t really be news, but a recent parent survey conducted by the Campaign for Children, of which UNH is a part, concluded that 50% of parents using child care and 36% of parents using after-school said they would quit their job to stay home with their child(ren) if these programs were no longer available. Many of the parents who responded to the survey are participants in settlement house programs that are at risk of closing in neighborhoods across the City. For all of the key findings and for direct parent quotes, read the full report, titled Parent Voices, here.

On one hand I say “DUH”, news at 11, obvious, who didn’t know that?  On the other hand,  I am struck by how compelling the quotes from parents were as they responded to the survey.  And I’m reminded that our Campaign to save these programs from funding cuts  is not an ideological, theoretical discussion focused on ephemeral concepts.   THESE ARE REAL FAMILIES WITH REAL CHILDREN FACING A REAL CRISIS WHEN THEIR CARE OPTIONS ARE GONE!  

Almost 4,000 parents answered our survey and spoke up.  Now, it’s up to rest of us to join them. 

Email the Mayor and the City Council today or share your own story

The Best Advocates for Children are Children!

Thursday, May 10, 2012
We all know the numbers: The Mayor is denying 47,000 children their after-school and child care programs this year. Working families will be forced to turn to poor alternatives for child care, or quit their jobs all together. Their kids will lose the enriching programs that keep them productive, active, social, and creative after the school day ends. They will lose the second home and sense of stability they have found through their counselors and friends. I called these cuts disgraceful, because simply put, they are.

While the scale of these cuts is unlike anything we have seen before, the community rallies and marches to protest the Mayor's budget are also taking place on a scale we haven't seen before. It is an uplifting and inspiring response, and reminds me of the strength of the settlement house leaders, staff, and participants. The events that have taken place since the launch of the Campaign for Children in March have been well attended by elected officials, program staff, and parents. But most strikingly, there has been an outpouring of participation by children and youth. 


These events culminated Wednesday in what has been the most coordinated City-wide activity to date: over 50 program cites in the UNH network across the City participated in "Lights Off After-School". During their regular after-school hours, children marched to demonstrated their personal feelings about the cuts. These fearless youth and child advocates held handmade signs and chanted. Throughout the Campaign, they have also shared their talents with performances, and their stories with personal testimony.

As we all fight against the proposed budget cuts through meetings with policy makers, call-in days, and letter-signing, we must give credit to the children and young people who have emerged as our most effective advocates. They have been a part of the Campaign since it started, and we thank them for sharing their time, their spirit, and their stories with the Campaign for Children. 
As someone who has been doing this work for a long time, I am personally inspired and motivated by them.  

See photos and read about kids in action from UNH members CAMBA, Henry Street Settlement, and New Settlement Apartments. In the end, it is the next generation that will save this one. 

Credits: Photos 1 & 2: Kate Shaffer

Why is New York a Great City?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Why is New York a great City? 

Because we are a diverse combination of nationalities, ethnicities, income groups, and occupations.  Former Mayor Dinkins called us a mosaic, others call us a stewpot or a curry pot.  We depend on each other, we take care of each other, sometimes we really irritate each other. 

While the rest of the country knows us as the financial, restaurant, media and nightlife capital of the world, we are also cab drivers, home health attendants, restaurant and hotel workers, and security guards.  People who also work hard, but in less glitzy settings, essentially making it possible for other New Yorkers to live as well as they do.   
With his Executive Budget, announced today, Mayor Bloomberg is turning his back on these less visible “other New Yorkers”, thousands of working families and their children.  By slashing after-school funding, over half of the current City-subsidized programs for school-age children will close.  These programs will not just reduce the number of kids they serve… THEY WILL CLOSE.  Low and moderate income parents will completely lose the supportive programs that allow them to work.  When these cuts are implemented, we as a City will lose more than thousands of afterschool slots and nonprofit jobs.  In fact, it will be a far greater loss.  We will lose the interdependence and the spirit of common enterprise and mutuality that are New York City. 

Read UNH's official statement here. 


Friday, April 27, 2012

The City Department of Youth and Community Development released award letters to nonprofits for the Out of School Time (OST) after-school program on Tuesday afternoon. Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of UNH, shares her response to the disheartening news.

I was tossing and turning last night, searching for the word that best describes my feelings about the City administration’s action to eliminate over one-half of the afterschool programs in the City now serving low and moderate income families.  I thought of all the “D” words usually found in the advocate’s arsenal: 

Disappointing:  too weak

Disgusting:  we’re not talking about creepy crawling things here, it’s about children

Discouraging:  yes indeed, but that doesn’t get at the anger.

Disturbing:  very, but too vague.

Then, this morning, it finally came to me:  DISGRACEFUL

It is absolutely disgraceful that in the richest City in the country, perhaps the world, the Mayor cannot find a way to fund afterschool programs for school age children with working parents.  These programs are not being eliminated because of performance deficiencies.  They are being closed because they clearly did not rise to the top of the City’s funding priority list. Twenty-five thousand children -- 50% of the current number -- will lose these programs when the Mayor’s plan is implemented this fall.  In the UNH network of agencies alone, 44 programs will be eliminated, now serving approximately 6,000 children.  There are no other affordable ways for these parents to find care.  Their children will not find the homework help and academic enrichment that will allow them to succeed in school, putatively one of the Mayor’s highest priorities?  What are these children going to do after school without structured programming?

Yes I am disappointed, disgusted, discouraged and disturbed.  But shame on all of us, including our City leaders, if we allow this plan to go forward.  It is nothing short of disgraceful.