New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in Jan. 1 for his second term as mayor of New York City. After he was re-elected, he said he had a mandate to make the city the “fairest big city in America.” But what does that mean for people and policies? And for the nonprofit organizations that deliver some of the services that would enable this goal?
Community Resource Exchange, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with almost 400 nonprofits each year, understands that this year, these groups are facing a lot of uncertainty from the federal government. We’d like to see this uncertainty removed at the local level.
De Blasio’s first term saw some great work with and for nonprofits, notably the efforts his administration has taken to reduce income equality and his commitment to shutting down Rikers Island. He also has dramatically expanded after-school programs and launched universal pre-K, both of which were done in partnership with nonprofits and are delivering enormous benefits to many people and communities across the city.
That said, there is still much that needs to be done to ensure not only that the safety net that nonprofits and human service organizations provide remains strong, but also that nonprofits are able to partner well with local government in ensuring New York City remains safe and increasingly equitable for all of its residents. CRE would like to see renewed commitment to funding nonprofit contracts along with greater flexibility built into these contracts, as well as a commitment to work together better to serve our communities.
CRE aims to reduce poverty, promote equity and increase opportunity, so it has been encouraging to see the mayor focus so much of his policy making on advancing equality, particularly related to education and income equality. As one example, the work his administration has done on early childhood education should not go unnoticed. Universal pre-K was one of his biggest campaign promises – one that seemed ambitious to say the least. By the end of 2017, 70,000 children were benefiting from this program. Meaningful and high quality early education has positive outcomes for the duration of people’s academic lives and beyond, so the importance of this expanded access to education cannot be understated. The continued work to expand education and wage equality, as well as working with nonprofits and the human services sector for continued access to city services and employment opportunities, are all priorities we want to see in de Blasio’s second term.
Arguably the most important thing the de Blasio administration can do for nonprofits in his next term is continue to work with the sector to reform and improve the city’s contracting processes. New York City depends on nonprofits to deliver much-needed human services to residents – and has done so for decades. But the cost of administering these essential services has grown over the years, without a corresponding increase in funding for the nonprofits delivering them. In 2016-17 we saw a huge push from the human services organizations to send a message to local government: City contracts do not cover the full cost of delivering services and we can no longer survive as a sector if these contracts do not change.
Led by the Human Services Council, nonprofits called for a 12 percent increase in city contracts. Not only is the city falling short on covering contract delivery costs, but the time it takes the city to pay out these contracts is often long past when the contract (and contract costs) begin – which leaves nonprofits with severe cash flow shortages that affect all aspects of an organization’s operations. In 2017, the de Blasio administration announced it would raise reimbursements for indirect costs by 10 percent over five years – a number that sets the administration on the right path to correcting the long term under-investment in the human services sector. It’s important that in his second term de Blasio continues to honor and build on the progress made in this area.
This is all the more important given the great uncertainty that currently surrounds so many of the federal funding streams that support nonprofit services at the local level – and the likelihood that the needs of the communities we serve will grow if anticipated federal policies and budget cuts become reality. Thus, there is another need and opportunity for us to work together in 2018 and beyond: to develop and then execute a coordinated response to the needs of our diverse communities as the rhetoric from Washington continue. For example, if discretionary spending is cut in a way that eliminates huge portions of city and/or state budgets – as has been proposed – we may have to make very tough decisions about which local services are prioritized over others.
In that instance, the need to work together as a sector and in partnership with government will never be more urgent. No organization will have the money or time to spend on needless back and forth discussion, delivery of non-crucial services, or competition that impedes collaboration at the expense of vulnerable New Yorkers. Moreover, we will need to work differently if we want to meet the needs of all New Yorkers and continue to advance equity of opportunity in line with de Blasio’s vision. Could there be new and better ways of working between nonprofits and local government so that together we partner with residents to understand their priorities for services? And of course, how might we do this in a way that maximizes resources and helps to ensure the sustainability of the nonprofit institutions that serve our communities across New York City?
While we need de Blasio’s administration to commit to, and deliver on, many things to ensure New York becomes the “fairest big city in America,” working hand-in-hand with nonprofits is one of the most important for the sustainability and wellbeing of all of the city’s residents. Whether that is through flexible and full funding, or partnering with nonprofits to create better solutions that keep the needs of our communities at the forefront, working together will garner better solutions for all New Yorkers.
Katie Leonberger is president and CEO of Community Resource Exchange.