Cost Escalation and Nonprofit Sustainability

Those following the news in the human services realm over the last few years know that the financial situation of many nonprofits has become increasingly concerning. In our recent report on the precarious fiscal condition of New York’s nonprofit sector, we at HSC outlined how chronic underfunding of contracts, development of programs and metrics without meaningful input from service providers, late payments by government agencies, and failure to pay interest when it is due can lead to financial strain or collapse for even our largest and most robust organizations. You also know that the cost of living and the cost of doing business—particularly in New York City—have skyrocketed over the past decade, while funding of human services contracts has stagnated. For this reason, HSC has continuously called for the addition of cost escalation clauses to human services contracts.

A cost escalation clause, or escalator clause, guarantees that the funder will adjust payment to reflect any cost increases that are out of either party’s control, usually expenses that haven’t been adjusted for inflation.[1] Nonprofits report that expenses for rent, insurance, repairs to infrastructure, supplies, and improvements in technology have all increased at a rapid pace over the last decade[2]. In the absence of cost escalation clauses, agencies must scramble to cover rising costs by pulling money from other budget areas. For many organizations, this has meant laying off or furloughing staff, reducing salaries or benefits, freezing hiring, or even shuttering certain programs. Ultimately, these actions have the effect of reducing the quality of and access to critical services that uplift communities.

Government agencies often blame nonprofits for failing to properly oversee their financial affairs, and recommend that they should run their agencies more like for-profit businesses. Cost escalation clauses are a perfect example of how nonprofits can better plan for the future, and they come right out of the for-profit sector’s playbook. Any good contract lawyer would advise a construction company to include a cost escalation clause to account for future increases in the cost of materials and labor. Those who provide necessary and life-saving care for our fellow New Yorkers deserve the same protection.

While ideally every business that contracts with government would have a cost escalation clause in its contracts, human services organizations are particularly susceptible to inflation because so much of their business is tied to the astronomical rent increases that are happening across the City. Not only do these increases affect the spaces that the organizations operate from, but the lack of affordable housing[3] has also led to a drastic increase in homelessness, food insecurity, and overall financial pressure on New Yorkers, thereby increasing the number of individuals who are in need of human services.  This is to say nothing of the staff at these organizations, whose rent is also going up while their wages are not.[4] This keeps nonprofits in the position of being unable to attract and retain the most talented candidates for jobs and leads to high levels of turnover. This also doesn’t help sustain a well-run agency that can keep track of its financials and deliver the high-quality services that communities need.

Cost escalation clauses are only one thing out of many that we can fight for to make our organizations stronger and better equipped to serve. No organization whose mission it is to help everyone in our City live a fulfilling and healthy life should have to close its doors because of rigid contracts that fail to keep pace with rising costs. HSC will continue to advocate for contracts that are reasonable, fair, and equitable, and we look forward to working directly with the newly created New York City Nonprofit Resiliency Committee and New York State Not-for-Profit Contracting Advisory Committee to achieve this goal.

Meara Levezow, HSC Policy Intern 





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HSC’s Annual Membership Meeting 2016

On Wednesday, September 14, the Human Services Council hosted our 2016 Annual Membership Meeting. The morning of #WorkingForChange included a panel discussion on the challenges faced by the human services workforce, a briefing on HSC’s FY17 work, an update on our governance change and vote on a slate of our new Board of Directors, and a presentation from Bridgespan on real costs of providing services.

Working for Change: Challenges of the Human Services Workforce Panel

Human service providers – and a diverse workforce – form the foundations of wellbeing by delivering services for physical, emotional, and economic health in communities served. There are many constraints that our sector faces as we work to support and implement progressive labor policies. It is critical that we overcome these constraints in order to strengthen the human services workforce and expand opportunity within it.img_0581

In a dynamic discussion facilitated by Jonathan Bowles from the Center for an Urban Future, panelists addressed said issues from an economic lens; they explored factors that drive wages and which policies can sustain and strengthen our sector’s workforce. The panel comprised the following individuals:

  • Heidi Shierholz, Chief Economist to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
  • New York State Senator David Carlucci, Chair of Senate Committee on Social Services
  • New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Chair of Committee on Finance
  • Melanie Hartzog, Deputy Director at NYC Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  • Christine C. Quinn, CEO of Win

The discussion highlighted the way inequity manifests in the frontlines of the sector and emphasized the crucial role of direct service staff. Dr. Shierholz noted that, “Human services workers will take lower pay for meaningful work, but still need a living wage.” In conveying the harsh reality that many direct service staff in human services agencies need the same services they might be providing, Ms. Quinn alluded to a point made by Dr. Shierholz: the workforce of the social services sector is disproportionately women of color and individuals of low socioeconomic status.

Panelists discussed the difficulty of retaining staff to maintain the quality services that serve communities without funding for organizations for wages and indirect costs. However, Councilmember Ferreras-Copeland challenged the sector to communicate our full costs to the City Council because “Nonprofits should not assume that elected officials know the real cost of running programs.” As such, our sector also needs to speak with a collective voice and what is needed to fully serve New York’s communities.

Updates on HSC and HSC FY17 Priorities

Following the discussion, Allison Sesso, Executive Director of HSC, presented HSC’s vision and plan for the upcoming year. She honed in on points discussed during the panel: “if we are to effect tangible change, we can no longer afford to allow the current approach in which providers are paid less than true cost, have no funding to invest in our institutions, and continue to employ a low-wage workforce.”


Allison Sesso, Executive Director of HSC

HSC’s “Call to Action” Commission Report, released earlier this year, largely sets out the vision for the change we need and positioned HSC as a leading voice on nonprofit issues. HSC’s report has been referenced in stories found in mainstream media and national nonprofit publications and HSC has been asked to present around the country. As promised, the “Call to Action” is an active report and will continue to drive our work in the coming year.

Highlights of HSC’s work in the coming year include:

  • Risk assessment including the development of an RFP Rater; a Government Agency Performance Scorecard; and participation in Ahead of the Curve, a collaborative brainstorming amongst capacity building groups serving NYC nonprofits around risk
  • Program Collaboration through a new working group being launched by the City and partnership with State leaders like Fran Barrett, the Interagency Coordinator for Non-profit Organizations
  • Capitalizing the sector by understanding the real costs of running various programs and advocating for greater investments by the City and State for our organizations and the human services workforce
  • Disaster Preparedness by partnering with the DOHMH to develop a sector-wide plan for disaster response
  • Equity Agenda through encouraging our sector to appreciate our own biases at play and actively developing and moving strategies forward for these conversations

Additionally, she introduced the launching of HSC’s newest campaigns, Restore Opportunity Now and Fund the 15, with our partners FPWA and FPI to help highlight the role of human services and make a case for further investment by the state.

After detailing HSC’s development of statewide partnerships, legislative goals, and grassroots functionality with the Advocacy Institute, Allison spoke to the internal restructuring of HSC, and introduced changes to our Governance approach and membership engagement strategy.


Sesso with Joel Copperman and Dr. Jeremy Kohomban

HSC’s New Board of Directors

Nancy Wackstein, the head of HSC’s Transition Committee, described the process HSC went through this year to change our Governance structure and introduced the new Board slate. Joel Copperman, HSC’s Board Chair, presided over the vote for our new Board of Directors, which can be found here. The vote decreased the size of our Board of Directors to thirteen members with an additional three “lay” individuals to be identified, recruited and vetted at a later date.

After a unanimous vote, we were honored to welcome Dr. Jeremy Kohomban as our new Board Chair and the rest of our new Board of Directors. Their leadership will be instrumental in building an even stronger and more impactful HSC.

We would also like to extend our deepest gratitude to Joel Copperman for serving as the Board Chair from 2010-2016. His leadership and partnership has been instrumental to HSC’s growth and positioning. We appreciate the amount of time, effort, and dedication Mr. Copperman has poured into HSC to make sure we continue to work towards our mission and vision. We are also very thankful that Mr. Copperman will be staying on for one more year in the ex-officio role to ensure a smooth transition.

Bridgespan Presentation – Paying What it Takes to Achieve Results

To conclude HSC’s Annual Membership Meeting, Alex Neuhoff and Leslie MacKrell from Bridgespan gave a presentation on the study found in their article, “Pay What It Takes Philanthropy,” on nonprofit indirect costs. In their presentation, they discussed the fact that indirect costs for organizations differ greatly across segments and sectors and that indirect costs at organizations are often greater than what is typically provided by funders.img_0584

Bridgespan led a conversation around their study’s methodology and previewed their upcoming research project on looking at the indirect costs of greater numbers of nonprofit organizations. To find a copy of their presentation, click here.

Understanding the real or true costs of doing business and building funding approaches that take these into account is critical to the future of nonprofit human service organizations.  HSC is focused on this topic as it is a key component to the financial health of our membership and we are thrilled to be engaging Bridgespan in conversations on this topic.


HSC is looking forward to working on behalf of the sector in this coming year. We would like to thank our members and all of our funders for their support of our work:

  • Altman Foundation
  • The Clark Foundation
  • Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • New York City Council
  • The New York Community Trust
  • United Way of New York City
  • UJA-Federation of New York

We have an ambitious agenda and look forward to working with all of our members, funders, and supporters this coming year!


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A Personal Look at Working in the Human Services Sector

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the social and economic achievements of the workers in this country and there are few better deserving of that praise than those employed in the human services sector. They provide an incredible array of services that reach a vast number of people each year- all with endless passion and patience.

Growing up the daughter of a social worker, the value of public service and helping others was instilled in me from an early age. I began my career as an assistant teacher at a preschool, hoping to make a significant impact in the lives of children at a pivotal time in their development. Despite my strong interest in education, I soon found myself frustrated by insufficient pay, a cap on my hours at 35 –  instead of 40 – depriving me of full time benefits, and the high rate of turnover at the school as many of the most talented teachers left their positions after only a few years (some even after just one) to pursue more lucrative endeavors. I did not realize at the time that this experience had prepared me for understanding the challenges faced by the entire nonprofit sector. Since leaving that profession myself, I switched gears and have spent the majority of my time interning with nonprofit organizations. However, as I see many of my peers graduating from law school, entering technology and engineering fields and generally building stable, professional lives for themselves, I find myself with some concerns about my choice of future profession.

The stereotype of life at a nonprofit is that you’ll be exhausted and you’ll never make any money but at least you’ll love what you do. There is some truth to that. The sector recurrently has problems offering competitive salaries and benefits to attract and promote young talent which can lead to high rates of employee turnover- 57% of those who left the sector cited compensation as the premier factor in their exit.1 Although the big win of the 15 and Funding campaign to get the New York State minimum wage raised to $15 per hour represents a move in the right direction, government has not augmented funding in human services contracts (15 and Funding) accordingly. This has the potential of leaving organizations without the resources required to execute the raise and forcing them to downsize and/or cut programs.2 In 2015, the New York City Council approved a 2.5% Cost of Living Adjustment (half of the amount advocated for by the Human Services Council) for workers with government contracts but with no provision for a perennial adjustment to keep up with inflation. Over a year later, many of the challenges in implementation have not been resolved resulting in many organizations waiting for funding.3

But much of this is caused or at the very least aggravated by what is possibly the largest contribution to nonprofits’ financial struggle- late and often completely underfunded contracts with government from which many nonprofits are paid only 80 cents on the dollar.4 Last year in New York City alone, fewer than 30% of government contracts were paid on time- a significant rise from only 13% in 2014.5 The lack of increase in funding for OTPS leaves many unable to make well overdue repairs to their infrastructure, pay for their rent and program supplies, and conduct crucial staff development trainings.6 How can organizations be expected to simply stay above water let alone provide services to the millions of people they support each year when their predominant source of revenue is inconsistent at best, and frequently overlooked or excluded entirely from political action, discourse, and platforms?

As a young person entering the job market, I want to know that wherever I choose to work will offer me ample opportunities to learn and to grow but this appears harder to find than one might think. Two thirds of workers in my age group are planning on leaving their current jobs by 2020, many even seeing themselves elsewhere within the year.7 A dearth of staff development, mentoring initiatives and employee retention strategies (frequently due to the aforementioned unreliable funding that might otherwise be put towards such initiatives) are cited as increasingly problematic by both employees and organizations. The advancement stagnation this results in perpetuates the high turnover at every stratum- at the lower levels, a reported 51% of organizations cited keeping entry level staff as their greatest retention issue8 and at higher management levels, internal promotion only represents 30% of appointments at nonprofit organizations.9 There is no way for this to be remedied without the attention and support of government.

I, of course, have specific human services and social justice issues I am personally inspired by and particular kinds of positions in which I can see myself performing best. But first and foremost I want to work somewhere that acknowledges my skills and my potential. I want to work somewhere that is dedicated to my advancement; dedicated to the support of its workers in a career climate that all too often sees their staff as expendable. My time at the Human Services Council has been a perfect example of that. The values I see reflected in the guiding principles and goals of human services client work- respect, self-determination, importance of community and creation of change from within- are indistinguishable from those I desire in my future place of employment. Those values, the commitment to public service and betterment of individuals, communities or society at large, are exactly what I hope to spend the rest of my working life espousing and I am confident in the ability of the sector to continue strengthening themselves while they strengthen the world.

By Caitlin Orzeck-Byrnes










9 Thomas J. Tierney, The Nonprofit Sector’s Leadership Deficit, The Bridgespan Group, 2006, p. 17. The Bridgespan Group’s June 2015 “Leadership Development Deficit Survey” received replies from 438 nonprofit senior leaders. Jean Martin, “For Senior Leaders, Fit Matters More than Skill,” Harvard Business Review, January 17, 2014.

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Improvement in Disaster Readiness, But Rigorous Efforts Remain Necessary

Following a Comprehensive Research Initiative, HSC Reports on the State of Disaster Readiness in the Human Services Sector

Disaster Preparedness 2016 Report CoverAt a forum organized by HSC on August 3rd on the subject of disaster preparedness, HSC released a report of findings and recommendations of a four-month study examining the disaster-related practices and perceptions of NYC-based human services.

HSC performed the project in cooperation with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which provided funding and input, along with the Baruch College School of Public and International Affairs, which played a vital role in conducting research.

Of 582 human services leaders invited to participate in an extensive online survey, 210 took part, translating to a 36% response rate, which considerably exceeds average response rates – an encouraging finding in itself, suggesting a strong interest in the subject.  Complementing the survey were focus groups and individualized interviews.

Consistent with the high awareness demonstrated by the survey response rate, an encouraging finding is that the majority of respondents reported that their organizations have recently developed written Emergency Response and Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans. Large organizations are far more likely to develop such plans than small ones, and most organizations of all sizes have yet to enter into partnerships with other organizations allowing for coordinated planning around post-disaster service delivery.

This subject of coordination was explored extensively in the survey and what emerged, quite notably, is that many human services leaders are unsure as to which government entity they should relate. To a significant extent, they believe that NYC Emergency Management leads the immediate response to disasters, but they question which office assumes that role as short-term relief efforts give way to long-term recovery programs.

Begging attention, findings regarding funding were striking. Respectively, 92%, 93%, and 93% of respondents reported that they lacked funds for disaster preparedness, immediate response to disasters, and long-term disaster recovery.

Among HSC’s recommendations are:

  • Establishing a high-level City government office responsible for coordinating disaster-related efforts with the human services sector and NYC Emergency Management and the numerous other government agencies which deal with disasters
  • Establishing a Human Services Operations Center to serve as a counterpart to the City’s Emergency Command Center and, related, developing a human services sector-wide system of post-disaster communication
  • Better integrating grassroots organizations into disaster preparedness and response efforts
  • Developing funding mechanisms that permit human services organizations to prepare and respond to disasters with less risk to destabilizing their budgets
  • Allowing for flexibility within ongoing government contracts for human services – as examples, enabling a child care center to convert to a community center, or a senior center to a senior-visiting program

HSC is concerned that the delays and disruptions that occurred following Sandy, which resulted in unnecessary distress to those affected, would be repeated if another major disaster were to occur imminently — particularly as lessons learned and relationships established fade.

At the same time, we are encouraged that a trend to greater preparedness is increasing and that heightened partnership between the human services sector and government is taking hold – evidenced at our recent forum, in the efforts of a Mayoral task-force on this topic that will soon issue recommendations, and in our own ongoing collaboration with NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

We anticipate much continuing progress over the next months.

Contributed by Danny Rosenthal. Danny Rosenthal is a consultant to nonprofit organizations and a free-lance writer.

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Let’s Get Ready: HSC’S Disaster Forum Sparks Inter-Sector Dialogue and Spurs Planning Efforts

On August 3, HSC asked a gathering of more than 100 leaders from NYC’s human services sector and the City, State, and Federal government: if we are beset by another disaster such as 9/11 or Sandy, Are We Ready?

The answer, decidedly, was No — but with the acknowledgement that we have achieved significant progress and that we are poised for an upgraded partnership between the human services sector and government that will position us to bring post-disaster support to affected communities in ways that are faster and better coordinated than ever in the past.

20160803_091026New York City Deputy Mayor Dr. Herminia Palacio, a veteran of the Katrina recovery, provided opening remarks that established a collaborative if sobering tone.  She spoke of the vital nature of the joint effort that must occur between government and human services organizations and she contradicted the axiom that disasters do not discriminate. Inequities with which low-income populations are already suffering are only amplified after disasters, she commented, and she asserted that our planning must take this factor prominently into account.

Disaster Preparedness 2016 Report CoverFollowing Deputy Mayor Palacio, HSC Executive Director Allison Sesso also expressed the importance of a structured and ongoing relationship between the human services sector and government, and she highlighted the findings of a just-completed research effort led by HSC in cooperation with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and CUNY Baruch that gauged the degree to which the human services sector is prepared for disaster.

Among numerous recommendations, the report calls for:

  • establishment of a high-level City government office charged with coordinating with the human services sector and relevant government agencies regarding disaster-related matters;
  • better engaging grassroots organizations in disaster planning and response; and
  • ensuring that human services are financially equipped to deal with disasters.

For a summary of the recommendations, click here.

20160803_123140The session concluded with a panel entitled “Pushing Forward,” designed to arrive at consensus about the priorities to be collectively addressed. The group agreed about the imperative of a relationship between the human services sector and government characterized by candor and flexibility; a need for clarity about the roles and responsibilities of government entities; and that strenuous efforts should be made to ensure that human services organizations engaged in disaster work are equipped to do so while also continuing to pursue their everyday missions.

“We’re pleased about the tenor of this discussion and we expect that our collective state of readiness will improve, said Allison Sesso. But goodwill and a good conference cannot be cause for contentment.  We need to move forward aggressively.  What if disaster hits tomorrow?”

Contributed by Danny Rosenthal. Danny Rosenthal is a consultant to nonprofit organizations and a free-lance writer.

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Government Contracting Delays Hurt Nonprofits and Communities

Although New Yorkers from all walks of life rely upon nonprofits to provide vital services, nonprofits can neither count on the government to pay them on time nor in full, despite New York State’s preexisting laws. The State’s human services providers continue to face the epidemic of late contracting, which has a detrimental effect on both the organizations themselves and the communities they serve.  According to the most recent annual prompt contracting report released by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, State agencies processed 61 percent of their nonprofit contracts late in 2015.   While this is certainly an improvement from 2014, when the State processed a staggering 77 percent of its nonprofit contracts late, the percentage is still unacceptably high and jeopardizes the ability of nonprofits to carry out their mission. [1] Last year, the government spent $129,824 of taxpayer dollars paying interest on delayed contracts, which is money that could actually be spent providing nonprofits with the funds they need to aid the communities they support. Furthermore, the $130K is only a fraction of what the nonprofits were owed; indeed, the government paid interest on only 22% (303) of the 1,379 eligible contracts.

In 1991, the State passed the Prompt Contacting Law, which was intended to prevent delays by requiring State agencies to process contracts within 150 to 180 days. Furthermore, a 2007 amendment requires the Comptroller to release an annual report detailing if agencies meet the time frame and if not, offer reasons for delay.[2]  The law provides for interest payments on late contracts to prevent financial hardship.  Unfortunately, the law also allows nonprofits to waive their right to these interest payments, and many human services contracts contain waiver clauses.  Providers believe that they have no leverage when the government presents them with a contract that includes a waiver clause; they are fearful that if they challenge the clause, the government will simply find another group to provide the service. As such, 25 years after the adoption of the Prompt Contracting Law, government continues to process the majority of its nonprofit contracts late, without paying interest in most cases—and nonprofits end up paying the penalty for government’s bad contracting practices. The law thus should be amended to include stringent criteria for when a waiver is permissible.

Through thousands of contracts, the State relies on the nonprofit sector to provide vital services to New Yorkers. In New York State, over 91,000 nonprofits provide a plethora of services including disaster relief, homeless shelters, food pantries, literacy program, and elder care.[3] The breadth of services available means that those who receive them are not just those living below the poverty line but those with differing races, genders, ages and socioeconomic statuses. In addition to providing services, the nonprofit sector also accounts for a significant portion of the New York State workforce; according to an analysis by the Fiscal Policy Institute, there are 250,000 private sector social service workers in New York.[4]

Nonprofits are forced to compensate for the government’s late contracting by taking out loans, furloughing staff or scaling back services. [5] These actions have the deleterious effect of not only compromising the wellbeing of the individuals employed by the sector but also risking the health of the estimated 2.5 million New Yorkers who utilize the provided services .[6] The real world result of the government’s late contracting is, perhaps, shutting down the local child care center, diminishing the amount of vocational training available to veterans or halting the provision of mental health counseling.

The monumental problems facing human services providers are epitomized by the disastrous 2015 closing of Federation Employment and Guidance Service (FEGS), one of the largest human services providers in New York. In the wake of the closing, HSC released an extensive report both with reflections on the current state of the human services sector and recommendations to prevent a similar scenario to FEGS in the future. One of these recommendations was “timely and reliable payments by government.” HSC identified that due to organizations’ lack of cash reserves, uneven payments on performance-based contracts make it extremely difficult to budget and pay personnel and operating expenses, which obviously do not evaporate even when payments are nonexistent.[7] Furthermore, as recommended by Comptroller DiNapoli, prompt contracting interest should be automatically calculated in order to help ensure that the non for profits receive their owed interest.[8]

Government relies on nonprofits, and nonprofits must be able to rely upon the government’s timely and complete payments in order to fulfill their mission. Ultimately, the government must become cognizant of the fact that by paying contracts late and by not providing interest payments they are harming both the nonprofit human services delivery system and the communities that rely upon the services the nonprofits offer.  Accordingly, HSC continues to advocate meaningful contracting and payment reform.

Contributed by Edith Herwitz of the Human Services Council.









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2016 State Legislative Session Wrap-up

The 2016 legislative session came to a close this month with little fanfare.  While our representatives agreed on fantasy sports and Sunday morning alcohol sales (the “Brunch Bill”), meaningful ethics reform and closing the LLC loophole eluded consensus.  A number of new bills and reintroductions would affect the human services sector, but few were passed.  In the last-minute frenzy of legislation, a bill that was intended to increase lobbying and campaign finance transparency (Senate Bill 8160) sailed through both chambers in one day.  Among other provisions, this legislation includes additional reporting requirements for nonprofits that give money, goods, or services to 501(c)(4) organizations.  The Governor has not yet signed the bill, and at this time, we believe that it will have very limited application to nonprofit organizations.

HSC worked behind the scenes with many of its partners to advocate for or against certain policies and bills during this biennium.  Our most significant victories, which we secured with through ongoing collaboration with our partners and members, were the minimum wage increase and the expansion of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Investment Program (NICIP).  We also collaborated with our supportive housing and behavioral health partners to oppose NIMBY bills that would have severely limited the opening and relocation of social services programs.  Those bills did not make it out of the Legislature.  Meanwhile, we helped move a bill allowing nonprofits to make purchases through county cooperative purchasing agreements through both chambers.

In addition to our advocacy, HSC established relationships with Senator Robert G. Ortt (R/C/I – 62), who has sponsored several bills that would benefit the nonprofit human services sector, and Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D/I/WF – 35), who sponsored the cooperative purchasing bill.  We look forward to developing and leveraging these partnerships throughout the year so that we are better positioned to influence policy in the next session.  We thank Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi, who continues to be a strong voice for our sector, for his ongoing support and collaboration.  Below are some of the key bills that would affect the human services sector.  Note that while the first four have passed the Senate and the Assembly, they must be signed by the Governor to become law.


Contributed by Edith Herwitz of the Human Services Council

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HHS Accelerator Report

This month, the Human Services Council released its report on the initial impact of HHS Accelerator and, as a follow-up to the report, held a focus group meeting that allowed providers to share their feedback directly with the HHS Accelerator team. This is the latest example of HSC’s ongoing commitment to working with providers and government to streamline the way they do business. By improving the business relationship, we strengthen providers’ ability to deliver high-quality services to New Yorkers who need them.

New York City launched HHS Accelerator in 2013 to address the core challenges of the human services procurement process. The result of a detailed dialogue between the City government and the Human Services Council of New York and its members, this technology-driven solution standardizes the solicitation and contracting processes. The well-being of many human services organizations and of their clients in New York City depends on government procurement and contracting.

However, until nearly two years ago, identifying and responding to RFPs was a challenge. HHS Accelerator was launched to address the difficulties in procurement and contracting. Accelerator allows providers to store frequently requested documents, prequalify before competing for funds, apply for and manage contract awards online, and to track and submit financials.

HSC recognizes that HHS Accelerator is a drastic improvement but is also a work in progress. Based on a survey and interviews with our member organizations, HSC has produced a report on the initial impact of HHS Accelerator. Overall, HHS Accelerator has had a positive impact on the procurement process.

Before Accelerator, the process of procurement was overwhelmingly paper-driven, inefficient, and redundant. However, now the majority of providers consider the procurement process to be more efficient and straightforward. One serious problem before Accelerator was duplication of effort. For example, the same agency requesting the same document multiple times, or having to submit the exact same document to multiple agencies. The time spent sending in duplicate documents is valuable time that could be spent on providing essential services. HHS Accelerator has significantly improved on the hassle of duplication. Providers can upload documents to the Document Vault, which are then accessible by many City agencies. Accelerator has reduced the administrative burden of the solicitation process.

In addition, Accelerator has reduced inconsistency among and within agencies. Before the online system was introduced, each agency had its own procurement process. The majority of providers contract with multiple City agencies, however, so they would have to submit the same information in different formats. For example, every provider had to demonstrate its past experience in a service area to be qualified to apply for contracts in that area. With Accelerator, there is a uniform prequalification process that applies to all City human services agencies. Again, any time saved is indispensable in the nonprofit human services sector.

Before Accelerator, each agency also had its own process for publishing and notifying providers of RFPs. Trying to find opportunities meant either spending large amounts of time searching, or missing out on relevant prospects. Opportunities would be communicated in a myriad of ways, from email and mailing lists to private RFP services and word of mouth. HHS Accelerator asks providers to specify what services they provide and then identifies opportunities based on their selections. Accelerator is now the most relied upon source for finding RFPs, and the majority of survey responders indicated that Accelerator has made RFP identification easier.

The report provides much more in-depth analysis of the changes HHS Accelerator has brought about and how they affect providers’ procurement experience. The report also features ways in which respondents believe the procurement and contracting process and HHS Accelerator could be further improved. Overall, Accelerator has made life less stressful for providers, and the suggested improvements will make providing services to communities in need even easier.

To continue the streamlining process, HSC recently convened personnel from our member organizations and the HHS Accelerator team for a feedback-driven focus group. Not only did the entire HHS Accelerator team attend the meeting, but they led the group in an overview of updated features and a discussion about the user experience. Topics examined included the new RFP format, the document vault, file size, alerts, and trainings; those in attendance offered feedback on those and several other areas. The focus group was a success: not only was there a fantastic attendance from service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Operations, but the Accelerator team was incredibly open to feedback. We are looking forward to another focus group meeting and a continued partnership to improve and expand the system.

HHS Accelerator team and HSC members going over Accelerator updates and features

HHS Accelerator team and HSC members attending focus group meeting

Contributed by Elizabeth Yates of the Human Services Council.

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2.5% Cost of Living Adjustment for New York City’s Human Services Workers

HSC launched the 5and5COLA campaign earlier this year to advocate for a cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for the human services sector. It has been seven years since our dedicated workers have seen a raise despite the economic recovery and the increased cost of living in New York. HSC’s 5and5COLA initiative calls for a 5 percent increase this year and 5 percent increase next year for a total of 10 percent by 2016 for the human services sector.

To kick off our campaign, representatives from more than 30 human services organizations gathered in front of City Hall on Monday, April 27th to express the importance of an investment in human services through a COLA. There were speeches from Councilmember Ydandis Rodriguez, Wayne Ho, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA),  Igal Jellinek, LiveOn NY, Angela Gonzalez, Women in Need (WIN), and Gregory Brender, United Neighborhood Houses of New York.  All of them stressed the importance of the human services sector in keeping our communities thriving and what a COLA would mean for the human services workforce.

Our sector provides over $5.5 billion in services including job placement, community services, afterschool enrichment, and assistance to immigrants. Our sector’s employees dedicate themselves to improving the lives of New Yorkers, making a difference in their communities, and contributing to New York’s economy. This sector’s workforce is the foundation that strengthens New York.

However, as Wayne Ho pointed out at our rally, “The people who work in our sector look like the clients they are serving. They are eligible for the services that we are providing. Over 50 percent of employees in social services agencies earn less than $14 an hour. The mass majority of these are women are and people of color.” As the lowest paid workforce in NY, the lack of a COLA has created a high turnover rate and negatively impacts the clients who constantly have to change their caseworkers. “It has been increasingly hard to fill the positions with the salaries we offer. Invariably that hurts services to the women we serve,” said Bobby Watts from Care for the Homeless.[1]

A COLA would go a long way to strengthen the City’s safety net and promote equality for all New Yorkers. Igal Jellinek explained, “Inequality of wages now leads to a vicious cycle where those that service older adults will then become poor older adults themselves.” Mayor de Blasio has released bold goals and specific targets to contribute to and strengthen the environment and economic stability of New York in his OneNYC Plan.[2] While we support Mayor de Blasio’s efforts in funding programs that fight poverty, we would like to stress the human services workforce are critical partners in helping reach his goal of lifting 800,000 people out of poverty. [3]

The 2.5% increase COLA included in the FY16 Executive Budget, along with a $11.50/hour floor wage increase for social service workers, is a good start towards accomplishing Mayor de Blasio’s goal.[4] Although the change we have seen thus far is not all we proposed, it is still a step in the right direction. As the Administration moves ahead with its plans to fight inequality in NYC, we must remember the importance of providing living wages for the human services workers who play a vital role in helping those in need in New York’s communities. HSC will continue fight for the human services sector and for additional increases in the future to continue to stabilize and strengthen our critical work.

[1] Human Services Council Leads #5and5COLA

[2] Mayor de Blasio’s One NYC Plan

[3]  Mayor de Blasio Releases One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City

[4] Policy Update: 2.5% COLA in FY16 Executive Budget

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HSC’s Joins the Fight for $15

Michelle Jackson speaking at the release of Comptroller Stringers Report: “Raising the Minimum Wage in New York City to $15 Per-Hour Will Put $10 Billion into the Pockets of Nearly 1.5 Million Workers”

Michelle Jackson speaking at the release of Comptroller Stringers Report: “Raising the Minimum Wage in New York City to $15 Per-Hour Will Put $10 Billion into the Pockets of Nearly 1.5 Million Workers”

The Fight for $15 has swept the nation as a rally-turned-movement to raise the wages of workers across the country. The goal of the Fight for $15 is to combat the gap between the minimum wage and the cost of living which creates a growing population of working poor. This increase is needed to improve the lives of thousands of New Yorkers who struggle to provide for their households, even as full time workers.

The lack of a living wage has increased the need for human services as New Yorkers try to make ends meet. More people are coming through the doors of our agencies every day. Many of our programs help New Yorkers reach self-sufficiency by teaching job training skills, helping people find employment, or providing job supports like child-care. However, the gains from these programs are lost when thousands of jobs across New York do not pay a living wage. In addition, years of flat funding by government agencies have left the human services sector hard pressed to keep up with the increased demand of providing for those in need.

HSC came out on the April 15 Day of Action in support of the Fight for $15 because we know that a living wage for New Yorkers would transform our neighborhoods and our City. A new report released by Comptroller Scott Stringer stresses the impact this will have on both workers and businesses. His report found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per-hour in New York City by 2019 would boost wages by $10 billion a year and benefit nearly 1.5 million workers in the City.[1] This boost would also increase household spending, decrease the amount spent on individuals who are eligible for Food Stamps and Medicaid by $200 to $500 million annually, and increase the amount of taxes collected by the City.[2]

The importance of having living wage jobs in our communities cannot be overlooked. Mayor de Blasio has released his OneNYC plan with the goal of lifting 800,000 people out of poverty by 2025.[3] A report by the Center for Economic Opportunity shows that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per-hour will be important to helping him meet his goal.[4] Raising the minimum wage would mean a better way of living in New York City and make it easier for employees to provide for themselves and their families. The Fight for $15 Rally brings us closer to that goal.

[1] Comptroller Stringer Report: Raising Minimum Wage in New York City to $15 Per-Hour Will Put $10 Billion into the Pockets of Nearly 1.5 Million Workers

[2] Comptroller Stringer Report: Raising Minimum Wage in New York City to $15 Per-Hour Will Put $10 Billion into the Pockets of Nearly 1.5 Million Workers

[3] One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City

[4] Report: City’s Anti-poverty Goal Requires $15 Minimum Wage

Contributed by Jovonne Cameron of the Human Services Council


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