A Fresh Start in City Hall
Social Workers Weigh In
With the Election of Bill de Blasio, New York City has a mayor who reflects the values of the social work profession, for both social justice and enhanced services to the under served. He has also appointed as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios Paoli, who recently served as Commissioner of the City’s Department for the Aging. In addition, he appointed Gladys Carrion as Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services. Although neither Ms. Paoli nor Ms. Carrion is a social worker, they have both been supporters of the profession and have collaborated with NASW-NYC in the past.
In light of the transition to new leadership in City Hall, Currents asked members of the Chapter Board of Directors what they would like to see Mayor de Blasio concentrate on, from their perspective. Below are the recommendations from five members of the Board. In the coming months the Chapter will be officially communicating its recommendations to fight poverty and to address inequitable salaries for social workers, especially salaries that could be influenced by the Mayor.
NASW-NYC will also be communicating with the members of the City council and the Borough Presidents, many of whom are new.
Currents invites NASW-NYC members to share your recommendations. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Housing and Homelessness
Ben Sher, LCSW
Congratulations, Mr. de Blasio, on your historic win as mayor of New York City. It is exciting to see a candidate whose platform emphasizes helping everyone to succeed in this great city as the next leader. As you assume responsibility for governance, I urge you to consider the issue of homelessness in New York:
• Each night as many as 60,000 people – including more than 22,000 children – experience homelessness.
• Currently 52,400 homeless men, women, and children bed down each night in the NYC municipal shelter system.
• Additionally, more than 5,000 homeless adults and children sleep each night in other public and private shelters, and thousands more sleep rough on the streets or in other public spaces.
• During the course of each year, more than 111,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 40,000 children, sleep in the municipal shelter system.
• The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by more than 69 percent since 2002 (Coalition for the Homeless website, 12/9/13).
The issue of homelessness is pervasive. Addressing it is more than giving keys to an apartment; it means a job for displaced workers, support for families, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling, and treatment for mental health. It will be essential for your administration to engage in a multi-pronged intervention process to address the root causes of this problem. Affordable housing in New York is important and meshes with your platform message of uniting a dived city. I urge you to unite the offices under your supervision (child and family services, homeless services, HRA, HUD, health and mental hygiene) to develop a strategic plan to collaborate services for homeless people so that "no wrong door" leads back to getting people off the streets and shelters.
A Racial Equity Lens
Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, NASW-NYC President-Elect
We are finally able to hear the collective cry over the growing disparities in this city as the middle class, who have increasingly been betrayed by Wall Street and the housing market, join with the working class and the bottom-stuck.
Every institution has delivered the same disparate outcomes for the same group of people. It has always been a tale of two cities for communities of color. This is devastating when we consider that these institutions define quality of life for many New Yorkers.
The interconnecting nature of social systems makes it impossible to impact any one issue without a full understanding of the cross-systems nature of institutional racism.
• Unemployment rates rise and fall; however, for black men they have been at 50% for years. There are disparities within unemployment.
• Life expectancy for black men is 20-30 years less than for white men. This can be tracked by zip code.
• Historically proud, hyper-segregated communities were easily dismantled by Bloomberg’s gentrification plan. Did anyone ask what happened to the long-time, former residents of Harlem
If we are to effectively address income inequality for New Yorkers we have to come to terms with a peculiar institution that is uniquely American, the thing that distinguishes us from all others: Structural Racism. Structural Racism is embedded in each and every one of these systems. It’s the COLOR LINE that must be dealt with if we are to achieve lasting equity.
Equity cannot be achieved simply through equal treatment. We need leaders who understand and accept primary responsibility for doing this work and who will also be accountable to New Yorkers who have always been left out of the decision making process. Surely, if those most impacted were involved, different decisions would be made and different, better outcomes would be achieved.
The work of achieving equity through a racial equity impact lens will not only reveal these disparities but will begin to address the underlying structures that create race disparities within and among the beautiful and diverse communities that we call New York City!
Mayor de Blasio IS the possibility of systems transformation! He has the opportunity to institutionalize antiracism as his legacy while building hope and a healthier NY.
Adopting a racial impact statement process for all government policy making is the first step to ensuring equitable and fair outcomes and to address the root issue perpetuating disparities.
NYC will become the model city government when leadership positions are held by equity visionaries. We call on leaders to understand that business as usual delivers results as usual.
Social workers are allies in bringing this lens to city government for two reasons: the needs of communities are the focus of our work and social workers are found in every social system. Social workers must be in leadership roles and with salaries that are commensurate with our expertise.
This is our time. It’s time to do this right. Prioritize the need to transform our relationship with communities most impacted so that existing leadership of color may surface, their voices be lifted and strong partnerships established for lasting solutions.
Immigration and Transnational Parenting
Christiana Best, PhD, LMSW
Congratulations, Mayor de Blasio, on your momentous victory and I wish you much success in your term as mayor of New York City. I am overjoyed and excited to witness your commitment to the people of New York - particularly your participatory leadership style.
As you begin your tenure as mayor, I would like you to give some consideration to the issue of immigration and the detrimental effects current restrictive laws have on the conditions of immigrant women engaged in transnational parenting (parenting from a distance) and the oppressive conditions many of them are forced to work in.
Every day poor women from developing countries make the decision to leave their children with relatives in their countries of origin and migrate to New York City and other cities in the U.S. for a "better life." Many of them are recruited directly or indirectly by middle class women from The Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Riverdale, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Long Island, Westchester and other parts of the city to work as house keepers, nannies for American children or caretakers for the elderly.
The current restrictive immigration laws make obtaining permanent residency or a path to citizenship long and arduous for many immigrants, particularly mothers who are separated from their children. The period of separation from their children averages seven to ten years because it takes so much time to change their immigration status.
One mother shared her grief of being separated from her child in an interview with me: “It makes you angry and bitter and sad. Every day you get up and you tell yourself things will get better. Sometimes you can’t sleep. There was a period in my life where I thought I was going crazy, I couldn’t sleep. But there isn’t anything you can do. You can’t go back and you can’t get a visa to send for her. I tried four times to get a visa and they turned me down. It’s just real pain. This is the first real pain I ever felt in my life. When I had my other child I still felt pain, the guilt is unexplainable.”(Best-Cummings, 2009).
Due to economic deprivation in their countries of origin these women are desperate to work and earn a living here so they will be able to take care of their families back home. However, in many cases, because of their undocumented status and particularly for those who work as "live-in" employees, they are exploited. Many of them are held hostage in unsafe and oppressive working conditions. One woman who worked as a live-in maid shared her story with me: "When you work as a live-in, you have to work 24 hours a day." (Best-Cummings & Gildner, 2004).
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, New York Immigration Coalition and We Belong Together are organizations working to help immigrant women and their children. Please endeavor to support their efforts and more equitable legislation for immigrants.
Seniors and Poverty
Alicia Fry, LCSW
Currently, 22% of NYC’s senior citizens live below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) set at an annual pretax income of $11,490. This is twice the poverty rate for seniors nationwide. NYC is the most expensive city in the nation in which to live. Therefore, under Mayor Bloomberg’s Poverty Rate, which is adjusted to reflect the NYC costs of living, the actual rate of NYC seniors defined as “poor” is over 32%. Some facts about senior poverty in NYC:
• 68.3% of “poor” NYC seniors are women
• 52.1% are age 75 or older
• 59.8% of NYC’s senior poor has one or more physical, mental, or emotional disabilities
• The poverty rate for NYC Hispanic elderly (30%) is three times the national average, and for Blacks and Asians it is twice the national average.
Among the most poor, Social Security accounts for 80 to 90% of income, yet the average SS monthly payment is just $955 per month, or $11,460 annually. 1.5 million New Yorkers use food pantries and soup kitchens in NYC: 25% are seniors. Nearly one-fifth of older adults in NYC have no savings, and would not be able to afford food if they lost a month of income. Government funding to food pantries has been cut by 33% in the last 2 years, yet demand is up by 50%, especially among seniors.
The four major factors that contribute to senior poverty are: income instability (job loss, benefits reduction, medical retirement); the high cost of housing (many seniors are spending over 50% of their income on housing costs, and many more are living in woefully substandard, even dangerous living situations because they simply cannot afford decent housing), the high cost of drugs and medical care (the average older American spends 19% of their total income on "out-of-pocket" medical expenses, more than half of which goes toward prescription drugs and dental care); and the high cost of food/access to food.
Special Challenges and Obstacles Faced by Geriatric Case Managers in NYC
• “Resistance”: Reluctance on the part of older adults to disclose their finances or even discuss money in a general way, especially with “outsiders”.
• Mistrust/suspicion of agencies and "professionals", and fear that what they do have will be taken away.
• Unwillingness to seek or receive help, to relinquish control, or accept what they perceive as “handouts”.
• Lack of knowledge/sophistication regarding financial management, benefits, and entitlements.
• An overtaxed public welfare system.
• Extremely high caseloads and time demands on Case Managers. The average Case Manager has exactly 8 minutes per month, per client, to devote to screening, application assistance, advocacy, and follow-up.
What the New Mayoral Administration Can Do
• Reinstate Section 8 and expand Section 202
• Build more affordable housing for low and middle-income seniors
• Hire more social workers to provide the case management services that are vital to keeping seniors safe in their homes and communities, and to prevent much costlier nursing home placements.
• Create programs that help seniors who wish to relocate to lower costs areas to do so
• Expand senior nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels and CityMeals
• Implement "Age-Friendly Cities" initiatives as other cities have successfully done
• Streamline the process for frail older adults to apply for benefits and entitlements
Source Material: Queens Interagency Council on Aging and the New York Citizens Committee on Aging
New Yorkers with Vision Loss
Nancy Miller, LMSW
I urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to address the needs of New Yorkers with vision loss. The following are recommendations for reforms that would help individuals who are blind or experience severe vision loss to live independently and productively in the City.
• More City sponsored job training programs should be designed to include and be accessible to trainees with vision loss and instructors with vision loss. All training programs should be equipped with accessible, adaptive equipment and instructors with the knowledge of how to use them.
• The NYC Department of Education mandates that blind students travel by bus to and from school. Not all blind students require this level of supervision. For many students, riding the school bus limits participation in critical after school programming, inhibiting the normative effects of a public school education. DOE should work collaboratively with parents, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and vision rehabilitation agency personnel to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a blind student can be cleared to travel independently to and from school. Social skills are a major determinant of a successful transition to adulthood.
• Students with vision loss who also have other disabilities should receive services that address all of their obstacles to learning. Currently many students receive either vision services but no services to address their other issues (especially in the case of learning disabilities); or they receive services that address some impairment (i.e. developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, physical impairments) but never receive vision services. Children can only reach their full potential when they are given services that address all of their obstacles to learning.
• All signage at public accommodations should meet the requirements of the ADA. The city should use more advanced technology for signage such as Bluetooth and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) that works with smart phones and other mobile devices.
• All street intersections should have accessible signal devices .
• The Health Code should be amended to require landlords to install color contrasted grab bars and other adaptations when individuals with vision loss or other disabilities are residents of their buildings.
• All public information available on government websites should be offered in text only formats. Where graphics are used, they must be accompanied by detailed text descriptions.
• Invest in after-school programs and summer employment programs for high school youth with disabilities. Restore funding for high school OST programs. Set aside SYEP slots for youth with disabilities.
• Insure that all audio descriptions and videos are labeled and titled.
• Use vision rehabilitation organizations to test graphic designs and elements to ensure they are discernable by people who are blind or have low vision.
• Where possible, only use software that is accessible by screen readers and other tools that help people who are blind or low vision access the information.
• Only use encryption software that can be converted to audio signal.
• Set aside a certain percentage of housing for people with low incomes who are blind.
• Expand Section 8 housing with set-asides for people who are blind
• Develop subsidized small business opportunities for entrepreneurs who are blind.
• Fund training of independent living skills and mobility by certified professionals for seniors with vision loss.
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