The UNH Blog

"Best Budget for NYC's Neighborhoods in Years"

Monday, June 23, 2014

This is the best budget we have seen for New York City’s neighborhoods in years.  We applaud Mayor de Blasio and the City Council for preserving core neighborhood services and  for crucial new investments in the Summer Youth Employment Program, free school lunches for middle-schoolers, adult literacy education and the New York City Housing Authority.  However, there remain areas of unmet need and we need to go further.  We are disappointed that the budget does not include needed funding to provide adequate salaries for early childhood education staff. Without equitable salaries, qualified teachers  working with infants, toddlers and three year olds are likely to leave for higher paying jobs in Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs and thereby destabilizing services for younger children. UNH urges the City to work post budget to ensure that community based organizations  providing early childhood education are able to offer equitable salaries to their staff.

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 the Mayor's FY15 Executive Budget

Friday, May 09, 2014

We applaud Mayor de Blasio’s progressive Executive Budget proposal and are thrilled he proposes investments in many key priorities for settlement houses and the communities they serve including expanding high-quality full day Pre-Kindergarten programs, moving towards universal access to after-school programs for middle school students, expanding summer programs for middle school students, investing in the Summer Youth Employment Program to close the jobs gap created by the state minimum wage increase and the loss of other funding sources, and investing in the New York City Housing Authority.  We also appreciate Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to a transparent and collaborative budget process. We remain committed to working with both the City Council and the administration to achieve salary parity for early childhood educators and an adequate rate for Early Learn programs, rate parity for after-school programs, universal free school lunches, adult literacy resources to help students and educators make the leap to new Common Core standards, expanding and improving services for older adults and an expansion of the Summer Youth Employment Program to serve the nearly 100,000 young people who despite today’s investment will still be turned away this summer.

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.

Disappointment over NY Senate Decision about the DREAM Act

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses is deeply disappointed that the New York Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act yesterday. Investing in the educational opportunity of youth eager to pursue higher education is a common sense move that states as diverse as Texas, California and New Mexico embraced years ago. At a time when immigrants drive New York City’s economy— comprising 44% of our workforce and generating over $210 billion in economic activity every year—shutting the door on the dreams of their children is shameful. UNH calls on Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver and the Senate Leadership to include the DREAM Act in the final budget.

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.

UNH's Applauds Governor Cuomo for Reinstating Funds to SNAP Benefits

Friday, February 28, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses is proud to work in a state in which the Governor has chosen to reinstate the deplorable Federal cuts to vital nutrition supports for low-income individuals and families. Governor Cuomo’s solution to provide the $457 million in SNAP benefits that were stripped from the Federal farm bill shows his commitment to the most vulnerable members of our communities. UNH member agencies see first-hand that hunger stands in the way of children learning, seniors remaining healthy, and of workers being productive; we are relieved to know that Governor Cuomo sees these realities too.

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

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. 

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.