Overwhelmed nonprofits ask governor to release federal aid as a lifeline

Legislative Gazette file photo
Food pantries, like many nonprofit service providers, are struggling to meet demand since the outbreak of COVID this year has created a hardship for many New York families. Nonprofit groups are calling on the governor to release $2 billion in federal aid that would provide a lifeline to many non-profit groups that are trying to meet demand despite fewer resources.

On Oct. 21, several New York lawmakers and nonprofit groups held a virtual press conference asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release $2 billion in federal coronavirus aid that New York state received through the Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act. 

According to the groups, New York state received $5.1 billion in federal aid through the CRF and $2 billion of it remains, with no indication of where or when the money will be spent.

The message from the nonprofits is that, without the funding, New York’s most vulnerable could be left without necessary programs and services they depend on. Some organizations are saying their doors might shut for good if their expenses continue to outpace their funding and support. 

The press conference was hosted by Michelle Jackson, executive director of the Human Services Council, an organization that networks with various other nonprofits throughout the state to coordinate and provide human services statewide.

Among the speakers at the press conference were New York State Assemblymembers Andrew Hevesi, Richard Gottfried, Donna Lupardo, Linda Rosenthal, Harry Bronson, and Ellen Jaffee.

There were also several state senators present, including Roxanne Persaud, Gustavo Rivera and David Carlucci. 

They were joined by representatives for various New York State nonprofits that have been struggling to provide services under the economic pressure that has been inflicted by COVID-19. 

Watch the full press conference here

These groups are responsible for providing a wide variety of human services: helping the homeless find jobs and affordable housing (Urban Pathways), providing geriatric care to the elderly (Lifespan Rochester), substance and alcohol abuse/addiction therapy (ASAPNYS, Phoenix House, COMPA), mental health assistance (MHANYS), early childhood assistance (Healthy Families), assistance to veterans (ASAP), fighting hunger and food insecurity (The Campaign Against Hunger) and advocating for criminal justice reform and providing assistance to various minority groups. (Center for Community Alternatives, Chinese-American Planning Council, NYAEMP).

In a press release provided after the meeting, the lawmakers and nonprofit leaders highlighted the groups’ dire need for state funding. 

The press release contained a series of eye-opening statistics, with some of the most prevalent being that 1.6 million nonprofit jobs have been lost nationwide between the months of March and May; an average of 26 human services providers close down a day; and the fact that more than 2 million New Yorkers are now food insecure. 

Budget cuts in the human services sector have left many of the state’s nonprofits hanging in the balance, with no reprieve in sight. The state’s growing deficit is projected to reach  $14.5 billion by the end of the year. 

There’s been a split in opinions on how to handle the problem; many financial analysts insist that Gov. Cuomo needs to cut Medicaid and other social service spending to alleviate the problem, while Democrats and progressive groups have suggested raising taxes on New York’s wealthiest residents, an idea that Cuomo himself has flirted with, but has been hesitant to act upon. 

As it stands now, Cuomo is insistent upon the idea that the federal government needs to provide more funding for state budgets. While this could help alleviate the state’s looming deficit, as well as the coronavirus related issues that have driven it, it is not something that nonprofit leaders are willing to wait for.

“COVID-19 has dramatically increased the need for human services at a time where our workforce and program capacity has been diminished and destabilized,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, chair of the Committee on Aging. “When nonprofit providers hurt,our families hurt.” 

The elderly care sector is no exception. These words were reinforced by the experiences of Ann Marie Cook, the president and CEO of Lifespan, a Rochester-area organization that provides wellcare, financial, education and transportation services for senior citizens. 

“On Monday, March 16, COVID closed our senior centers. On Tuesday, March 17, older adults began calling us for emergency food,” said Cook. “It was that fast, it was that immediate, and we just weren’t prepared for the thousand of calls we received from older adults to receive emergency food and get prescription drugs picked up.”

The swift closure of senior centers made for an immediate surge in demand for senior assistance from other sources, such as nonprofits like Lifespan. The struggle to meet the needs of these seniors led to serious struggles amongst senior citizens.

“One 76-year old gentleman called us and said “‘I have one sleeve of Ritz crackers left,” said Cook. “‘That’s it, and I’m trying to figure out how to make this last.’”

Some lawmakers on Wednesday argued that withholding the aid now will be more costly down the road.

“What he’s doing now, particularly withholding these funds, is going to cost us a lot of money starting next year, and the year after and the year after,” said Hevesi. The assemblyman argued that all of the money not going to social services is only going to require families in need to require more expensive services in the near future. 

“Respectfully governor, please… we need you to do some long-term thinking,” said Hevesi.

Hevesi also spent his time highlighting the fact that COVID has disproportionately impacted black, indigenous and people-of-color communities, and that failure to provide the necessary funds to social services will only worsen its impact. 

Hevesi cited two key statistics to back his point: black children are two times as likely to have lost a parent to COVID and black families are three to four times as likely to be food insecure since the onset of the pandemic. 

Further evidence of the disproportionate impact COVID has had on minority families, and the nonprofits that serve them, was presented by Laurie McBain, the program manager of Healthy Families, a non-profit which provides home visitation and early childcare services to vulnerable families across the state. 

“We recently did experience a budget cut, which meant eliminating five positions, and many of those positions were women of color and single-family households, which are now unemployed,” McBain said. “For each staff that has been eliminated, it means significantly less parents that we can serve.”

“We talk about over two million people being food insecure, that’s a very nice way of saying that people are hungry and people are poor,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who represents the 123rd New York State Assembly District. 

Earlier this year, Lupardo worked with Sen. Jen Metzger to draft Bill S.8561-a/A.10607-a, a bill that would help make New York’s food supply chain more logistically efficient. The bill was passed by the Assembly and the Senate in July.

Lupardo also talked about the work that the Nourish NY program has done in light of the pandemic. Nourish NY, an initiative that was given $25 million by Gov. Cuomo, is a program which works to send farmers’ surplus agricultural products to food banks throughout the state.

“We’ve spent some good resources matching up farmers with people in need,” said Lupardo, “and we want to make sure that the Nourish NY program continues and we need to do everything else we can to make sure programs that focus on those who are food insecure, get the resources they need.”

Nonprofits that provide alcohol and drug treatment and counseling services are overwhelmed because of the added stress brought on by the pandemic.

“Any kind of withholding or cut really will send the death knell for people and providers,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, chair of the committee on Alcohol and Substance Abuse. “I know that during COVID, the Department of Health has still not released the numbers for how many people who have died of overdose during this pandemic and we know, across the country, the numbers are large.”