Non-Profit Funding Scramble Shifts from City Hall to Albany
BY JACKSON CHEN | With a storm of uncertainty and unwelcome signs coming out of the new Trump administration, a coalition of non-profits are looking to the state and its budget to help shore up their frayed sector against a widely anticipated decline in federal resources.
Across New York, more than 300 non-profit organizations have teamed up to launch the “Restore Opportunity Now” campaign in response to the $152 billion state budget blueprint that Governor Andrew Cuomo released on January 17.
During a February 2 press conference, non-profits, like Urban Pathways and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), were joined by state legislators in issuing a rallying cry that the state bolster human services funding.
“I’m going to welcome you to what is the not-for-profit version of the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’” said Frederick Shack, the CEO of Urban Pathways. “Every day we replay the day before, and we’re stuck in this loop where we struggle to change the narrative. Unlike the movie, ours is not a romantic comedy, it’s more of a tragedy.”
Shack said his team at Urban Pathways continues to provide services to the city’s homeless despite operating with an underpaid staff and receiving reimbursement from government contracts that covers “85 cents on the dollar” relative to its costs.
Allison Sesso, the executive director of the Human Services Council, an umbrella organization that represents non-profits, has been working on the same issue at the city level. In contracts with both levels of government, non-profits face a similar squeeze, and they are appealing for more funding to prevent the shuttering of vital human services organizations.
“There’s no doubt that we as a state and nation are going to see shrinkage in terms of the amount of dollars that are available for our services,” Sesso said of a Trump administration that is unpredictable and also likely unfriendly toward the needs the groups she represents face. “We need to make sure the non-profits as institutions are shored up so that they can weather this storm.”
According to FPWA’s director of policy, Emily Miles, the issue comes up over and over in conversations with constituent organizations –– all of it testimony to the struggles non-profits face in providing salaries and benefits their staffs can live on. The pressure on staffs, Miles said, inevitably trickles down to the people they serve, whether they’re homeless, senior citizens, or children.
Thursday’s press conference featured two allies that non-profits have in Albany.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, a West Side Democrat, offered his support and said people need to start putting pressure on his colleagues.
“We have to make certain Albany understands,” Hoylman said. “We’re going to be making the case that we need to restore the budget and make it a people’s budget and ensure that the human services sector has the resources it needs to look after New Yorkers.”
In the State Assembly, Richard Gottfried, a Chelsea Democrat, said he is joining the non-profits in asking for more money set aside in the state budget for human services. Rather than re-litigate the issue each year, Gottfried said, he’d like to see some form of legislation that would ensure funding in the budget for years to come.
Being formerly homeless and now working with Urban Pathways, Scott McDonald said he is acutely aware of how frustrating the situation is, having been on both sides.
“There’s a lot of loneliness out there, hopelessness,” McDonald said. “That’s why individuals may rely on substance abuse and have tendencies to want to end their life. And I was there, a number of times.”
When asked what would happen in a worst-case scenario, McDonald said, “The human services community goes away, all the non-profits go away. It’s almost a doomsday scenario where you have no place to address mental and psychiatric health and homelessness.”
Governor Cuomo’s office had not returned a phone call seeking comment as of press time.