Dr. Christina Greer (115266)
Dr. Christina Greer

We are several weeks into sheltering in place due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently passed an executive order to mandate facemasks for people when they are in public. However, the governor has not provided funds for people to purchase facemasks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) needed. Especially important is that the governor has not provided adequate support for human service workers so that their staff can provide services safely. Luckily, many social service agencies have been finding their own PPEs and required gear, but other community based organizations have not been as lucky.

The city has said they are committed to reimbursing certain community organizations for COVID-19 related expenses (PPEs, supplies, cleaning, temp staff), but the state is not reimbursing. For organizations who receive a portion of their budget from the state (and not the city budget), they are left to resolve this quandary on their own in order to keep their workers safe…and alive.

The governor named several groups including health care workers and grocers as essential, but it is imperative the governor include nonprofit human services workers in his advocacy. Many human services workers are employed by nonprofit organizations that have state contracts, which obligate them to continue providing services at this time. For example, The Chinese-American Planning Council has over 3,000 home health aides, residential care staff, family child care providers, and meals on wheels workers who continue to be on the frontlines every day.

Under the COVID-19 classifications, human services workers are deemed essential workers and have “benefits,” like access to Regional Enrichment Centers and ability to travel to work. However, these workers have not been mentioned explicitly by the governor and mayor in their daily updates and have not been given any hazard pay (or up pay or incentive pay), except for city funded residential programs (foster care, juvenile justice, runaway homeless youth, etc.). There are other workers who continue to work directly with the community who are not getting hazard pay though (for example staff at Regional Enrichment Center and senior centers). To date, the city has actually done more than the state, who has not offered any hazard pay at all.

Human service workers are contractually obligated to provide these services, which means they have to provide services in order for the state and city to continue to fund them. Human services workers are risking their health and their families’ health to serve vulnerable communities. Many organizations are continuing to provide services with limited staff in order to fill gaps for their essential programs that are still running person-to-person such as meals on wheels and home care work.

The governor must provide hazard pay for all essential workers. Not in the future—now.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.