Nonprofits on front lines call for protections for their workers, too

Dan Rosenblum
Wayne Ho at a 2016 City Hall rally calling for contract increases for nonprofits.

Nonprofits on front lines call for protections for their workers, too

Staff at homeless shelters and food banks are essential, but haven’t received the same calls of support.
April 24, 2020

Human services workers should be included in recent calls to offer bonus pay to front line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, said one nonprofit leader during a discussion of how such organizations are surviving during the crisis. 

Though some residential programs funded through New York City are receiving incentive pay, the state has yet to provide that same commitment, said Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the federal government to provide a 50% hazard pay bonus to workers designated as essential in upcoming legislation at the start of the week. 

“It’s good that the governor mentioned that the next federal stimulus package should have hazard pay,” Ho said during a Thursday webinar hosted by NYN Media, City & State's sister publication. “But while everyone is rightfully so recognizing grocers and deliverers as well as health care workers, human services workers are also essential workers and we want everybody to include our community and workforce in these packages.”

Nonprofit coalitions and organizations including the Chinese-American Planning Council made a similar plea this week, asking for support to be extended to staff operating homeless shelters, food banks, meal delivery networks, residential homes for disabled people and other needed facilities. Many organizations have had to hire additional staff to make up for employees calling out sick or to watch their child. And with shortages of personal protective equipment such as masks, it has become all the more difficult to encourage existing staff and potential workers to continue providing services. 

Offering hazard pay is also particularly difficult for nonprofits on the front lines facing strained budgets because of the crisis. The Food Bank for New York City reported earlier this month that 40% of the organizations it supplies with food have suspended operations because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to rising hunger. Nonprofits housing homeless New Yorkers already normally run with limited cash on hand, and cancelled fundraising events make it difficult for many to fill the gap.   

“The last thing we as a city can afford, at the end of the day, when the clouds clear and the dust settles, is for these neighborhood-based agencies … (to) not be able to make it,” said Bill Baccaglini, who runs the child welfare organization The New York Foundling. “We cannot afford that as a city.” 

Panelists highlighted the need for continued advocacy across the sector, whether to support nonprofits at large or the communities they serve across various levels of government. 

“I cannot describe the difference in our individual advocacy and what it can accomplish versus sector-wide advocacy and what it can accomplish,” said Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon. “This is really a time not only to reach out to your coalitions but to dig deep and cough up what is probably not that much money relatively speaking … and join your coalition.”

Many nonprofits on the front lines have seen clients and staff die from the virus. But Baccaglini urged peers and New Yorkers to not let themselves become immune to the pandemic’s impact. 

“We’re now in New York celebrating the fact that there were fewer than 500 deaths for three days in a row,” he said. “We lost one foster child last year and it was weeks before the office where that child had been cared for came close to rebounding. So I am concerned we become numb from this.”

Watch the video of the discussion here:

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Kay Dervishi
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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