The plans that Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out in his State of the State address and budget lack the details and funding to make them a reality, nonprofit leaders told New York Nonprofit Media. Many expressed optimism that the hurdles could be cleared and were generally happy with the governor’s direction, but warned that poor planning and underfunding could derail his well-intentioned initiatives.
The governor made a series of spirited proposals earlier this month that could profoundly affect the nonprofit community, including a $28 billion increase in funding for housing, $2.1 billion more for education and a renewed pledge to enact a statewide $15 minimum wage. But the governor’s speech left questions for many nonprofit leaders about how those initiatives would meet current needs, fulfill previous pledges and impact the nonprofit community.
Part of the problem is that nonprofits were essentially left out of the governor’s address, said Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, Inc., which represents those organizations statewide.
Last year’s State of the State included several references to the nonprofit community, including how nonprofits address hunger, affordable housing, employment for minorities and community development. “There were lots of nonprofit themes,” Sauer said. "This year? Virtually ignored."
"When you look at it, it's devoid of much positive for nonprofits, even though his budget might be doing something,” Sauer said. “It was clearly not any kind of point of emphasis. That's a clear shift.”
In particular, the governor did not address the thorny issue of how nonprofits could cope with raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which Republican senators and nonprofit groups have said could cause nonprofits to suffer disproportionately because they often rely on state funds to do their work.
"He makes no reference to it,” Sauer said. “Nor does his budget include any money (to address it).”
The “15 and Funding” campaign, which aims to amend government human services contracts to fund the minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, released statements expressing cautious support for the governor’s plans, despite the omission.
“We stand with (Cuomo) in the fight to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, executive director and CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of the cosponsors of the campaign. “We remain hopeful that the increase will be funded for the more than 100,000 government contracted human services workers employed by nonprofits.”
The Human Services Council, another campaign cosponsor, added a critical note: “HSC is troubled by some aspects of the governor’s proposed budget, but we also have reason to be hopeful.” The organization listed key investments that should be included – but are currently missing – from the governor’s plans. Full funding for human service contracts topped the list.
Nonprofit leaders speculated that the governor’s silence on the issue could be political maneuvering to appease business interests ahead of difficult negotiations with state Senate Republicans – or perhaps the governor simply did not yet have a solution to the problem. Regardless, nonprofits said, they are currently in the dark over how or if the issue will be resolved.
Early learning and child care advocates were alarmed by a lack of funding that they estimate could result in 21,000 kids losing spots in child care programs as organizations redirect funding to meet new federal requirements.
"We're very deeply, horribly concerned about the lack of investment in child care at a time when we have several new standards coming into effect in the state that are going to cost the state something on the order of $90 million – just in known costs,” said Betty Holcomb, policy director for the Center for Children's Initiatives, referring to the federal Community Development Block Grant program. CDBG will require nonprofits to spend what Holcomb estimates will be tens of millions of dollars to fulfill new standards related to inspections, background checks and training. “And that could result in the loss of slots for tens of thousands of children.”
Although they were happy to hear of the governor’s new program to expand prekindergarten to three-year-olds, Holcomb noted that there is no new funding to help the more than 100,000 four-year-olds outside of New York City who still do not have access to full-day pre-K.
While Holcomb said that New York City’s success in fully implementing universal pre-K was laudable, much of that credit goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio for providing funding to create the 68,500 slots needed for the city’s children to attend full-day programs. New York state on the whole will continue to fall short of universal pre-K under the current funding.
“It's a small step forward, but not enough.” Holcomb said. “And it just ignores and fails to fulfill the promise of full-day (pre-K) for four-year-olds.” The governor’s new funding regime for three-year-olds is welcome news, she said, “but that can't be a substitute for what districts are ready and prepared to do."
Other education nonprofits were more buoyant, especially those supporting service-rich “community schools.” Cuomo’s pledge of “$100 million to transform every failing school in New York into a comprehensive, holistic, full-service community school” energized long-term proponents of the schooling strategy.
“We are excited to see the state seize on community schools as a way to strengthen academic success,” Phoebe C. Boyer, president and CEO of The Children’s Aid Society, said in a statement.
However, the $100 million alone would not be enough to properly transition struggling schools to the community school model, said Yolanda McBride, director of public policy at The Children’s Aid Society, which promotes the model and runs two community schools currently on New York’s receivership list.
"It's a huge undertaking – turnaround is a huge undertaking,” said McBride, explaining that both training and dedicated resource coordinators would be needed to bring together programs and services to properly meet the needs of each school community. “We think there should be additional funding set aside – on top of the $100 million – to do that,” she said.
Nonprofit housing advocates were happy to hear the governor’s $28 billion pledge for affordable and supportivehousing in New York, but would remain watchful since the particulars of the plan haven’t been hammered out yet.
“His verbal commitment to the 20,000 units is very heartening,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless. “But we still have very few details.”
Such large housing commitments typically are made in a joint plan between the mayor of New York City and the governor before they are announced. There’s some concern that the ongoing spat between Cuomo and de Blasio could impede progress on such a plan, which is expected to be called the New York/New York IV agreement.
”We hope that they can rise above that and acknowledge that this is very much needed to make sure supportive housing can come online quickly,” said Routhier. Housing developers need a concrete plan to have the confidence to seek funding and acquire the property needed to build the envisioned housing.
“Since both of their commitments are so long-term, we really need that in writing,” Routhier said of the mayor and governor’s multibillion-dollar promises for programs that will span 15 years. “That's really important.”
On the whole, nonprofits were hopeful about the governor’s budget and message – still, they said, they need to be sure to hold politicians to their promises.
“It's not that we're trying to be ‘Debbie Downers’ here,” Routhier said. “It's our job to say what needs to be done to make sure this happens.”