A Message from Phoebe Boyer, President and CEO
New York’s human services sector – uniquely positioned to support the city’s economic recovery and future – may not survive COVID. We represent more than 200,000 employees across the five boroughs and support workers and employers in all sectors through our direct services to vulnerable New Yorkers. And yet, though we are a vital component of the city’s COVID response and economy, all levels of government – the primary funders of the sector – have cut millions of dollars from human services budgets.
This is particularly painful because our leaders know the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on low-income neighborhoods and the people who continue to do crucial but often low-paid work. They know that 80% of the people in some communities are relying on food distribution. They know that COVID learning loss is real, and will disproportionately impact Latinx and Black students due to lack of access to computers, home internet connections, and direct instruction from teachers.
They also know that it was the human services sector that stepped up when New York City went into lockdown. It was our workers who were there for those in the hardest hit communities when they fell ill and who consoled the families of those who died – all the while supporting their own loved ones. They were there, too, for the people who lost their jobs and spent every day confronting fear of the virus and anxiety of sliding all the way down the economic ladder.
At the organization I run, we kept our community health centers open – despite lost revenue – so our young people could receive healthcare without further burdening overtaxed hospitals.
As a nation, we have made enormous investments to save entire industries with stimulus funds. Today, as we plan the road to recovery, we must make equal investments in human capital – in the human service workers who are the safety net for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, who contribute to the vitality of the city through their care, and who nurture the children and youth who are our future.
What if we could harness the skills and resources of the government, human services, and corporate sectors to plan our recovery? What if we recognize the interconnectedness of the communities of this city and commit to protecting all of them – making them all stronger – so that we move forward together?
We are going to need the best collaborative thinking because one thing is clear – life will be very different and innovation will be key as we determine our new normal. It will take cross-sector problem solving and leadership to co-construct a plan to reimagine and revitalize this city we love.
It has been nothing short of extraordinary to be on the leading edge of our city’s response to the pandemic, to help our children recover academically, socially, and emotionally; to give our families a sense of hope when they need us most. We remain humbled by the resilience of our communities – from the dad who said, “I don’t need the box of food this week, give it to the next family;” to the mother bravely dropping off her children at our early childhood centers, masked up and ready to go, so they don’t fall behind; to the foster parents who stepped in when our kids lost loved ones. They are up for the challenge – what they need is the promise of a more inclusive and just future for all New Yorkers.
The human services sector is key to this work, and together we can bridge the divides to move forward collectively. Now is the time to act.
Originally published in City and State NY: Boyer, Phoebe. "Human Services: A Call to Action." City and State NY, November 2, 2020, https://issuu.com/cityandstate/docs/csny-11022020-webissue