Urban Resource Institute (URI) has been in operation for over 40 years and is now the largest provider of shelter services in the country. URI currently provides temporary housing and services to more than 2,200 people each night who have been impacted by domestic violence, intimate partner violence and families experiencing homelessness and will continue to increase capacity over the next several years. URI is committed to developing and delivering innovative client-centered and trauma-informed services to individuals affected by domestic and gender-based violence and intimate partner violence and families experiencing homelessness.
Today’s testimony will focus on four specific areas of the fiscal year 2024 Executive Budget. First, we will discuss the need for a 6.5% cost of living increase (COLA) for human services workers. Next, we will discuss the impact of the 2.5% “Provider Flexible Funding” cut to New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) contracted programs. Moreover, we will discuss the need to fully fund the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) microgrants program at $6 million dollars. Lastly, we will discuss the need to increase funding for the Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE) Funding.
The need for a 6.5% COLA for Human Services Workers
As a crucial part of the human services sector, URI’s employees strive to connect individuals and families with lifesaving resources and support systems. However, the current proposed budget cuts critical services and continues the practice of providing wages for human services providers that fall significantly short of covering the cost of living in a city like New York. Despite the vital role we play in the city’s economy and safety, it is disheartening to be asked to cut our spending while being asked to provide increasingly higher levels of service and simultaneously find that our compensation barely meets basic needs.
The city’s cuts to homeless services and social service programs are detrimental to the well-being of struggling New Yorkers and must be halted. With fewer human services staff to do the work, these cuts will only prolong homelessness for individuals and families struggling to find it and diminish the chances of our clients finding permanent housing. The cuts also threaten our agency’s ability to provide vital client-centered, trauma-informed supportive services to our clients; these services are often the difference between someone being placed in permanent housing or languishing in shelter.
The failure to adequately support providers doing the work results in overwhelmed and understaffed systems, leaving families staying in homeless shelters for extended periods. To combat discrimination and supply essential services, it is imperative to fully fund providers and invest in critical social service agencies. We need to reject a narrative of scarcity and shortsighted cuts, and instead explore common sense plans to generate the revenue needed for a more equitable New York. Cutting corners by reducing social service programs will not solve the problem but rather exacerbate homelessness, hinder permanent housing solutions, and impose greater financial burdens on the city. Our leaders must prioritize housing, offer competitive salaries, and hold accountable those who unlawfully deny housing to voucher holders.
The salaries of our staff are determined by City contracts, which govern the funding for nonprofits like ours. URI urges the City of New York to include a 6.5% COLA in the upcoming budget for city-contracted human services workers. This increase would help align our wages with the inflation rate, enabling us to better support ourselves while continuing to serve the people of your district and the entire city.
The absence of a COLA has far-reaching consequences that affect both human services workers and the communities we serve. A disproportionate number of human services workers – at URI and across the spectrum – are women of color, highlighting the systemic issues that perpetuate inequality and contribute to a significant gender- and race-based pay gap. Despite the vital role that human services workers play in supporting and uplifting communities, they are often undervalued and underpaid.
Studies have consistently shown that women, on average, earn less than men for performing similar jobs, and this wage gap is even more pronounced for women of color. The reasons for this wage disparity are multifaceted, encompassing factors like occupational segregation, discriminatory practices in hiring and promotion, and limited access to educational and career advancement opportunities.
In addition, lack of appropriate wages leads to adverse workplace conditions, resulting in high staff turnover and vacancy rates. These challenges inevitably impact service delivery and our clients. We need a sustainable work environment that promotes continuity, stability, and effective service delivery to our clients.
The long-term implications of low wages cannot be understated: human services workers are disproportionately burdened with high debt loads and as a result, many are forced to consider leaving to seek higher-paid opportunities elsewhere. Without the work of our dedicated human services staff, many vulnerable New Yorkers would be left without essential services such as hot meals, afterschool programs, and domestic violence shelters.
URI urges the New York City Council to ensure that a 6.5% COLA for human services workers is included in the final budget. The estimated cost of this inclusion, approximately $200 million, is a necessary investment to address the prevailing wage disparities within the sector. By prioritizing the fair compensation of government-contracted human services workers, we can foster a workforce that is motivated, engaged, and able to provide the highest quality of care to our fellow New Yorkers.
2.5% “Provider Flexible Funding” Cut to DHS and HRA Contracted Programs
Homeless service providers have shown incredible heroism in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic and the current migrant homelessness crisis. We have opened our doors to provide shelter, meals, clothing, counseling, and connections to legal, employment and other supportive services. We have answered the City’s call, but we cannot absorb a 2.5% net budget cut to our already lean programs.
Our resources are stretched thin, with high vacancies and turnover, making it even more challenging for our dedicated staff to carry out their work effectively. Eliminating vacant positions will institutionalize staff vacancies that result in staff burnout because of unsustainably high caseloads. Ultimately, these cuts will negatively impact the well-being of our clients.
From a fiscal perspective, it is irresponsible to reduce staffing levels in agencies that provide critical assistance to low-income individuals and families. It is essential to understand that housing a single New Yorker in a city shelter costs an average of $4,000 per month. Slashing social service programs and cutting corners will only prolong the homelessness crisis, diminish the chances of finding permanent housing, and ultimately result in higher taxpayer costs.
It is our moral duty to protect and uplift those who are struggling. We cannot turn a blind eye to the human consequences of these decisions. Instead, let us invest in comprehensive support systems that provide individuals with the resources they need to regain stability. Now is not the time to reduce homelessness services when our city needs them the most. URI urges the New York City Council to eliminate the “Provider Flexible Funding” PEG from the final budget, and instead include a 6.5% COLA for homeless services staff.
Fully Fund the ENDGBV Microgrants Program
URI is grateful to the New Yor City Council for its advocacy in ensuring that microgrants program for survivors of gender-based violence is funded. The preliminary budget proposed a mere $1.2 million for this program, an amount that is far below what the projected needs are for this program. The Council’s response increased baseline funding for this program by an additional $3 million, for a total of $4.2 million. URI is grateful for the increased funding; however, it falls short of the necessary $6 million needed to fully fund this program.
The ENDGBV microgrants program was established by Local Law 112 of 2022 (formerly Int. 153-A of 2022), which established a housing stability program that provides survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with low-barrier grants and supportive services to help them maintain housing. The grants may be used to cover a wide range of expenses, such as moving costs, furniture, transportation, and childcare, to name a few. For many survivors, these funds could mean the difference between staying in an abusive situation or being able to leave and start a new life in safety.
The need for the ENDGBV microgrants program has only increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic violence rates have soared during the pandemic, with many survivors experiencing financial insecurity and struggling to find safe housing. According to a report by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, domestic violence homicides increased by 33% in New York State from 2019 to 2020, with many of these deaths occurring during the pandemic.
The microgrants program is a crucial tool in the fight against domestic and gender-based violence. By providing survivors with financial assistance, we can empower them to interrupt the cycle of abuse and rebuild their lives. Additionally, providing this assistance can help to reduce the burden on other crime victim services programs, such as emergency shelters and legal services.
While domestic violence survivors are indeed victims of crimes, it is important to note that they are also, and perhaps primarily, resilient, strong, and capable. The microgrant program is designed to help them take control of their lives, recognizing that they have a range of needs that go beyond the immediate aftermath of the violence they experienced. Many survivors need access to safe housing, counseling, healthcare, legal assistance, and financial resources. It is crucial that programs and policies are designed to support survivors holistically, recognizing that their needs are complex and multidimensional.
The impact of the microgrants program is clear. In 2020, ENDGBV conducted a pilot of this program, which was administered by Sanctuary for Families, and distributed over $1.3 million in microgrants to over 1,600 survivors of domestic and gender-based violence. These funds helped survivors to secure housing, access medical care, and cover other essential expenses. Without the microgrants program, many of these survivors may have been unable to leave abusive situations or may have ended up homeless.
In the pilot program, the city provided an average grant of $1,243.37 to 377 survivors who qualified. If we assume that the same amount is granted to each survivor, we can estimate the number of survivors who would be able to receive grants.
Assuming a 15% administrative set aside and using the formula (Total Budget – Admin Set Aside / Average Grant Amount), we can calculate that the funding amount included in the proposed budget would only provide microgrants to 820 survivors:
However, this assumption is based on the average grant amount being $1243, which was determined by capping the maximum grant amount at $1500. ENDGBV made this decision after the pilot program started, as they received an extraordinary number of applications during the first two months of the program. ENDGBV wanted to make sure that they could use the program’s budget of $500,000 to help as many survivors as possible. During the pilot program, ENDGBV received 693 applications and was able to provide funding to 377 applicants. It is clear that there is a great need for these grants, and the city must allocate sufficient funding to ensure that the program can help the maximum number of qualified survivors.
Following the same method and assuming the $4.2 million counteroffered by the Council and setting the average grant amount to the proper level of $2,000, the program would provide funding for 1,785 survivors. An improvement over the proposed budget, but still far short of the need.
In 2021, ENDGBV reported that their Family Justice Centers (FJC) served 13,272 individual clients who needed help and services. Assuming that only about 20% of these clients require microgrants, the city would need to fund the program with $6 million per year. If we use this amount and assume that each survivor can receive a maximum grant of $2000 and the same 15% administrative set aside, we can calculate that the program would be able to provide grants to roughly 20% of the survivors visiting FJCs or 2,550 survivors with this budget.
Therefore, if the city were to allocate $6 million to the micro grant program instead of the proposed $4.2 million, an additional 765 survivors would be able to receive grants (2,550 – 1,785= 765).
The ENDGBV microgrants program is a crucial tool in the fight against domestic and gender-based violence. Survivors of domestic and gender-based violence need comprehensive support that goes beyond emergency shelter and legal services, and the microgrants program is designed to help survivors rebuild their lives by providing critical financial assistance. The impact of the pilot program is clear, and the need for this program has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
URI urges the New York City Council to allocate $6 million to fully fund this vital program.
Increase funding for the Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE) Funding
The New York City Council’s Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE) Funding is a critical program designed to support survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in the city. The initiative aims to provide funding to domestic violence service providers to help them provide comprehensive services to survivors, including emergency shelter, counseling, legal assistance, and job training. DoVE funding also supports initiatives that work toward preventing domestic violence by educating the public and raising awareness about the issue. This funding is crucial for domestic violence service providers to continue to provide support to survivors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a surge in domestic violence cases. DoVE Funding initiative serves as an important step in the fight against domestic violence in New York City, and it is essential for the safety and well-being of survivors in the city.
As the New York City Council negotiates this year’s budget, URI and other domestic violence services providers urge the Council to increase the amounts available for this initiative as it provides Council Members the ability to directly impact survivors in their respective districts.
In conclusion, URI urges the City Council to prioritize a 6.5% cost of living increase (COLA) for human service workers, resist the proposed 2.5% “Provider Flexible Funding” cut to DHS and HRA contracted programs, fully fund the ENDGBV Microgrants program at $6 million, and increase DoVE funding. The services and programs provided by these agencies are vital to the health and safety of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations. We cannot afford to make cuts that will have such a devastating impact on our communities.