For several years, SeaChange has been writing about the hardship imposed on nonprofits by New York City’s delays in registering contracts. We’ve argued that contract justice is a requirement of racial and economic justice given that rank-and-file staff and clients often bear the brunt of late payments. It has sometimes felt like a lonely crusade given that many people think that contracting problems are either unsolvable or unimportant.
Needless to say, we were delighted last December when then New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams and then Comptroller-elect Brad Landers formed the “Better Contract For New York” task force to get nonprofits paid on time. We were even more pleased when the task force so quickly came up with a set of sensible recommendations. However, talk is cheap and the real question is: Are things changing even a little bit for the better? It actually seems like they might be.
First, SeaChange has heard from a number of nonprofits that have recently had contracts registered having been waiting for months (and months) without any progress or even communication from the relevant agencies.
Second, the most recent data from CHECKBOOK NYC also shows small signs of improvement. During the three months prior to the release of the task force report on Feb. 14, the city registered an average of 77 human service contracts per week. Since the release, the weekly average has grown to 90 – an increase of more than 15%. The more recently registered contracts are also later – an average of 345 days compared with 262 days – suggesting that government may be prioritizing those that are already super late.
Although we are cautiously optimistic, it is too early to declare victory. Maybe the apparent improvement is just random variation. Maybe it is real but will quickly fade if the political interest in contracting wanes and the agencies revert to business as usual. And even if there has been improvement on average, individual nonprofit leaders should continue to expect the worst about when they’ll get cash under their city contracts. In fact, last week we extended a loan to a long-standing organization that, like many of its peers, is suffering from inexcusable delays in registration and payment from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. This week we will likely make another loan to a nonprofit facing similar problems with the Department of Education.
SeaChange will monitor contract data on CheckBookNYC monthly to see if things continue to improve. We will also watch for tangible signs of progress against the near-term objectives laid out in the task force report:
- Establish timeframes for each stage of the procurement and contracting process
- Establish Key Performance Indicators citywide and for each agency
- Allow nonprofits to track the status of their contracts
- Standardize human service documentation
- Create a plan and publicly commit to clear the backlog of unregistered contracts
- Establish the Mayor’s Office of Nonprofits
- Expand Access to Financing
As far as we know, none of these things have been done yet but it has only been two months since the task force report, leaving the city another three months to make the stated deadline.
We are also interested in the experience of nonprofits with city contracts. If you have city contracts, have you seen any improvement? Are particular agencies better or worse? Please share your experience, using this confidential, 30-second survey.
After eight years of growing disillusionment with the De Blasio administration, many nonprofit leaders had lost hope in New York City’s willingness or ability to treat its nonprofit partners fairly. But hope springs eternal and there seem to be early indications that things really may be changing. Fingers crossed.