Good morning. My name is Lauren Schuster. I am the Vice President of Government Affairs at Urban Resource Institute (URI). I would like to thank the Chair, Council Member Brannan, the esteemed members of the Committee on Finance and the Council Speaker for the opportunity to present testimony on the November Financial Plan today.
Urban Resource Institute is the largest provider of domestic violence shelter services in the country, in addition to being a leading provider of transitional housing to families experiencing homelessness. URI is committed to ending cycles of violence and homelessness by providing trauma-informed and client-centered support to the families in our care. In addition to transitional housing, URI helps families to achieve economic wellness, we work with youth and in communities to interrupt cycles of violence and we are committed to engaging people who have caused harm in the solutions to end that violence.
On any given night, URI provides temporary housing to approximately 3,000 people in the safety of one of our temporary homes. Each year, we provide services to approximately 12,000 people who have experienced homelessness or violence. Like our partners in the nonprofit sector, our work is critical to the health and safety of the families we serve.
Together with our partners, we in the nonprofit sector serve humanities’ most fundamental needs by providing food, clothing, and housing. And then do more: we provide job training and educational opportunities, childcare and legal support, advocacy and trauma-counseling, literacy education and physical and mental wellness and substance use counseling, restorative justice and cultural enrichment practices, and we endeavor always to leave the communities in which we live and work better than when we found then. And we do all this not because we are motivated by great profit, but instead because we are committed to lifting the people who need help the most.
Together, we create the infrastructure that makes this city run: the human infrastructure. And we are on the precipice of a crisis. URI is part of the #WHY15 campaign, which is a coalition of more than 225 organizations that specialize in human infrastructure. The City cannot withstand a 15% cut to its budget, and any additional cuts to the nonprofit sector will jeopardize public safety and health. We are making short-term budgeting decisions that will have long-term consequences on the wellbeing of our city and the people who live in it, disproportionately impacting the most marginalized communities.
As a result of the 2.5% Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) that was implemented in the New York City FY 23 Budget and passed down to transitional housing providers in the form of an “efficiency measure,” URI lost 20 full time staff positions. URI prioritizes paying our staff a living wage; the vacancies that exist within human services organizations do not represent superfluous positions, but instead are a direct result of City-subsidized poverty wages for our workforce, which is more than 80% women of color.
The July PEG institutionalizes existing vacancies. Inflation has increased the cost of everything, yet our staff have not had a meaningful COLA in many years and many of our contracts have remained flat. This places an inordinate burden on remaining staff to do more work with less money, leading to high rates of staff burnout and turnover, which in turn leads to vacancies and perpetuates a dangerous cycle that has the potential to jeopardize service delivery if not abated.
The city agencies that support our work are already operating at a deficit as a result of headcount reductions and hiring freezes. For the human services sector, this means that our families wait longer to move out of shelter and into homes, they wait longer to access vouchers and public assistance benefits and other sources of critical support, like food and childcare. And it means that the remaining staff at these agencies are woefully overtaxed.
Instead of throwing our sector a lifeline at a time of unprecedented strain, when the rates of homelessness and domestic violence are steadily increasing, we now face an additional round of cuts. This is simply unsustainable. There is no more left to cut.
Until now, we have been able avoid cuts to existing personnel by trimming our OTPS lines. A 5% cut would touch supplies for staff and clients, along with our budget for food. A 10% cut on top of that would be disastrous.
We see the strain that newly arrived asylum seekers have had on the City in the absence of adequate federal or state support; we are standing next to you shouldering the weight and providing culturally sensitive care to anyone who needs it. And we agree wholeheartedly that this is a federal problem that demands federal solutions and resources.
We do not agree, however, that the arrival of people seeking asylum is the sole cause of the City’s budget crisis. And, we do not agree that across-the-board cuts to the city’s nonprofit sector are the best or only way out of this crisis, especially when the contracts of private sector vendors providing substantially similar or related services are not also on the chopping block. If cuts are indeed the only answer (and of course, they are not), then they must be borne evenly by all.
Like our partners across the nonprofit sector, we believe that there are creative solutions to our problems that have yet to be explored. A recent report released by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) demonstrated that despite changes to the state’s income tax structure, high income earning New Yorkers have not left the City in droves. In fact, New York City has experienced a net gain of 15,100 millionaires since the pandemic. And the wealthy people who did leave abandoned New York for other high tax states, such as Connecticut, New Jersey and California.
What’s more, the FPI report found that Black and Latino New Yorkers earning between $32,000 and $65,000 a year followed by those making $104,000 to $172,000 were leaving at the fastest rates.
Identifying opportunities to raise revenue, via a progressive wealth tax, ending preferential tax treatment for pieds-a-terre and eliminating corporate and other tax breaks that serve little purpose, to name just a few, while approaching savings with surgical-like precision could spare the nonprofit sector and stem the exodus of New York City’s middle and lower-income earners, who are fleeing the high cost of living and currently unhospitable environs.
This approach is supported by the data and the public: a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 83% of New Yorkers are very or somewhat worried about the looming budget cuts and 65% support raising taxes on the wealthy to close the budget gap.
The nonprofit sector is essential to the functioning of our city. It keeps our streets clean, our people safe, our children educated and so much more. Our work together prevents vulnerable families from falling off the cliff. And it is among the reasons that New York City continues to be regarded the world over as one of the most beautiful places in which to live and work.
Let’s work together to identify alternative solutions to this crisis that do not involve dismantling the human infrastructure that so many people rely on to meet their most basic needs.