March 8, 2016 under Posts
By Christopher Hanway
For decades, our government has relied on thousands of non-profit organizations across the city and state to deliver the essential human services that millions of eligible New York residents desperately depend upon. But for the tens of thousands of low-wage non-profit workers who stand on the frontlines of this noble work every day, theirs is a precarious and somewhat dichotomous position: while they dedicate their lives to helping the most vulnerable members of our society access the necessary resources to improve their lives, more often than not they themselves face the burden of having to survive on less than a living wage – constantly struggling to make ends meet.
As executive director of a community-based organization that serves 2,000 children, youth, seniors and families in public housing every year and that maintains multiple government contracts, I have witnessed firsthand the burden that low wages places on employees, their families, and the organization as a whole. Many of my employees work on a daily basis to help our participants get access to benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid, while being in the position of needing those very same benefits. On more than one occasion, I have had employees come to me in confidence asking for a salary advance so that they might be able to pay a utility bill or simply put food on the table. One particularly poignant example was “Jamal,” who came to me, embarrassed and without even informing his direct supervisor, to request an advance because he and his mother were literally out of food. I have also witnessed the inevitable drain of talented and passionate workers who simply cannot continue to survive on the wages of the non-profit sector and leave in search of higher paying jobs. Employees like “Sarah,” a college student who took her extraordinary people skills and dedication to the welfare of children to a for-profit organization because she couldn’t afford to pay for needed textbooks. It is close to impossible to retain staff when the government contracts we maintain rarely take into account the endlessly rising cost of living.
This is why I was thrilled to learn that Governor Cuomo was proposing a minimum wage increase to $15 for all New Yorkers. I applaud the Governor’s efforts to ensure that every New Yorker is afforded the dignity of a living wage, especially those who dedicate themselves to the human services sector. The proposed hike will go a long way to remedying some of the issues that plague non-profit organizations, if contracts are amended to support the wage increase. The children, seniors, families, and immigrants who depend upon us will undoubtedly bear the brunt if this investment is not made, due to impacts to service levels and quality.
The non-profit sector should not be used as an excuse for not passing a $15 per hour minimum wage. Both a living wage and a concomitant increase in resources for non-profits via state contracts are one and the same and should be high priorities for the Governor and the legislature.
Christopher Hanway is the Executive Director at Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, a community-based, non-profit organization providing comprehensive services and programs to youth, families, immigrants and seniors in the western Queens community.
**You can learn more about the #15andFunding Campaign HERE.