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Good morning Chairs Hudson, Stevens, and Won, and members of the Committees on Aging, Contracts, and Youth Services. Thank you for holding this hearing. My name is Lily Shapiro, and I am Policy Counsel at the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at the Fortune Society. All of the bills at issue are important to fair and effective partnerships between the City and non-profit providers. I am testifying specifically in support of Intro. 510-2022. We hope, however, that the final version of this bill will address the responsibility of city agencies, as well as providers, to ensure that staff are paid a prevailing wage comparable to analogous private sector and government salaries. Providers, like the Fortune Society, are hampered from doing so by under-resourced city contracts.

For 55 years, The Fortune Society has been providing essential services to some of our most vulnerable fellow New Yorkers. The people we serve are detained in our city jails, returning home from jail and prison, court-mandated to participate in our services in lieu of pre-trial detention, or otherwise impacted by the criminal legal system and with us voluntarily. We provide housing with robust wraparound supports, educational and employment services, substance abuse treatment, behavioral health services, arts programming, and so much more. This work has always been challenging and has become even more so over the past several years with the onset and continuing evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many human services non-profits, we have struggled to retain staff and fill positions in this new world of work, given people’s reluctance to work in person, which is critical for the kinds of services we provide. But the biggest challenge we face in retention and hiring is our inability, based in part on our city contracts, to pay qualified, motivated people a decent, living wage.

We are very proud to say that at Fortune, “we hire our mission.” This means that we seek, whenever possible and appropriate, to hire people with conviction histories, particularly our program participants. Moreover, many of our staff are also people of color, since people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. This also means that many of our front-line staff – the ones who would most benefit from passage of Intro. 510 – are less likely to have significant financial resources outside of their paychecks from Fortune. In fact, some of them are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

One of my colleagues started with us as a voluntary participant trying to be the best father possible to his young child. He not only completed multiple programs, he became an intern and a peer recovery coach, providing support to others on similar journeys. We were thrilled to offer him a full-time position but despite his career goals and his desire to be a role model to his child, he hesitated. He hesitated because he knew that if he accepted our offer, he would wind up with less income than he received from various assistance programs. My colleague knew that if he came on full-time, he would have a harder time supporting himself and his child, for whom he’d finally been able to provide a separate bedroom. Nonetheless, he made that difficult choice to join us to build a career, and to provide other people with the kind of life-changing support he found in our programs. Nobody should have to make the choice to lose income to build a resume while providing critical services to our fellow New Yorkers.

The Fortune Society’s policy and advocacy positions are shaped by the needs and interests of the people we serve and the expertise of our front-line staff. My front-line colleagues are human services workers who work tirelessly to help people in crisis, people in desperate need of housing and employment, and people struggling with addiction. Their hard work keeps all of us safer. We should honor their commitment and contribution by ensuring that our city contracts are structured to allow us to pay them a prevailing wage. For all human service workers, and particularly our staff who have transformed their own lives and now give back to our city through their hard work, offering a prevailing wage is the smart thing to do, the fair thing to do, and the right thing to do. Thank you for your consideration of Intro. 510-2022 and for suggestions from the field about how to strengthen it.


Presented by

Lily Shapiro

Policy Counsel, David Rothenberg

Center for Public Policy


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