When Haitians started settling in New York in the late 1960s, our social network revolved around the Catholic Church. Community leadership was mostly the clergy. Over the years, the priests passed the baton to the men who came later. Today, the leadership in the community is decidedly women.
One of the groups birthed from the era of clergy leadership period was Haitian Americans United for Progress (HAUP). HAUP remains the best-managed Haitian organization in New York and is a poto mitan, or pillar, in our community.
HAUP provides all kinds of services – from early intervention for infants to respite care for the elderly. Last Fall, the organization was at the forefront helping settle Haitian asylum seekers in New York.
But HAUP is in trouble. It’s not because of mismanagement or incompetence on the parts of its leaders. The reason is that New York City, HAUP’s main financial backer, has been slow lately in disbursing the money the organization needs to function.
Last week, I spoke with Elsie Saint Louis, HAUP’s executive director, and she told me some of the challenges HAUP has faced in the last year or so. Saint Louis said that meeting payroll is difficult and the Internal Revenue Service has been putting the squeeze on them because HAUP is delinquent on its payroll taxes.
The IRS doesn’t care about your cash flow issues, they want their money. Pay or they put a lien on your property.
HAUP is not alone. Community-based organizations that depend on NYC for funding are also feeling the squeeze. And it is not right. Something needs to change and change fast. City officials are keenly aware of this issue. But they haven’t taken the steps to rectify it to allow organization leaders to concentrate on providing quality services instead of worrying about making payroll every month.
Last week, Brad Lander, the City’s comptroller sent an email addressing the issue:
Dear New Yorkers,
Imagine for a second if, after picking up all the garbage on their routes, that sanitation workers had to wait over a year to get paid. What if firefighters had to wait 13 months for a paycheck—all while being expected to put out fires every single day?
That’s exactly what is happening to nonprofits that contract with the City right now—many do equally critical work that our city would not be able to function without.
Nonprofits provide meals to the hungry, socialization for seniors during a very lonely time, youth employment during a jobs crisis, after school programs that support our students, eviction defense as we face a housing crisis, and critical community safety initiatives like the Cure Violence program that are needed as we face public safety challenges. Nonprofits stepped up to fill the holes in our social safety net as the pandemic hit NYC and continue to do so every single day, yet it takes months for them to get paid by the city for the work they were contracted to do on behalf of New Yorkers.
So, what are we going to do about it? We teamed up with the Adams Administration starting back in December to convene a joint task force of nonprofit and agency leaders to tackle the obstacles facing nonprofits. This Monday, on Valentine’s Day, we gathered to release our recommendations for how NYC can show some love to nonprofits by getting them paid on time.
Never mind that the letter itself appears delayed, since Valentine’s Day was a month ago… You can read for yourself about the task force’s recommendations, which include:
- Accountability and Transparency: Create new systems that both hold city stakeholders accountable for timely procurement and contracting and increase transparency to nonprofit providers and the public…
- Streamline and Modernize: Reduce inefficiencies and delays in the procurement and contracting process with improved and expanded adoption of the PASSPort digital procurement system across agencies.
- Fairness and Equality: Lower the burden incurred by smaller, primarily BIPOC-led nonprofits when contracting with the City, including increasing the Returnable Grant Fund and rewriting the standard human services contract to acknowledge cost escalations…
Saint Louis told me she is not impressed. She said that this problem dates back to the early days of the De Blasio administration and officials have been dragging their feet ever since. She is skeptical of any imminent action.
This issue is not unique to community organizations. At The Haitian Times, the city is our biggest advertiser. When it places ads in our outlet, via smaller agencies, we have to wait sometimes as long as 90 days to get paid. Our saving grace is that the main agency, Miller Advertising, can pay while it awaits for the city. But there are times that it too has had cash-flow issues.
I think the Adams administration would gain a huge amount of love from small business owners and organizations who depend on city contracts to provide services, and it must act faster. It’s past time for city officials to cut the red tape so HAUP and other organizations can get the funding they so need in a timely fashion. It’s only fair.