Opposing Budget Cuts for NYC Veterans' Services

190314.jpgOn Thursday, March 14, 2019, we presented testimony before the NYC Council's Committee on Veterans regarding oversight of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the NYC Department of Veterans' Services. Our testimony featured opposition to Mayor de Blasio's proposal to cut $63k from the budget, as well as concerns about staffing, accountability, and support from the Council. 

Below is the testimony presented:

Good Afternoon, and thank you to Chair Deutsch and the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Samuel Molik, and I am the Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy for the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-driven, grassroots policy advocacy and community-building organization that advances veterans and families as civic leaders. I am presenting testimony on behalf of our members who are active stakeholders in our advocacy.

The NYC Veterans Alliance was a key advocacy voice in the creation of the Department of Veterans’ Services as an independent agency, and we have been the premier community voice advocating to grow DVS’s budget to the current $5.2 million allotted for FY 2020. Our membership strongly supports our continued work to set high expectations for the role of DVS in NYC and beyond, and there is much to be optimistic about as DVS continues to build a staff of impressive professionals and to continue its impactful work like the tracking and coordination of care and permanent housing for homeless veterans. But there is much more work still to be done. Therefore, we make the following recommendations for DVS’s FY 2020 budget.

At the outset, we regret to see DVS’s budget reduced for the upcoming fiscal year. We have observed that the Mayor's budget proposal for DVS reflects an overall reduction of $63,238 to a budget of $5,223,844 for FY 2020. While the Mayor has proposed larger budget cuts for DVS in the recent past, we remain firmly opposed to a reduction in the budget of this new agency that we fought hard to create, and that has yet to fully scale into robust, seamless, and results-oriented services for veterans and their families across the five boroughs. If we consider the city’s approximately 220,000 veterans, and an estimated 250,000 spouses and household dependents who rely on them, that’s roughly 1 in 17 New Yorkers who are impacted by veterans’ services. In the Mayor’s FY 2020 budget of $92.2 billion—the proportional share of city funds we might expect to be targeted at veterans and their families would be roughly $5.4 billion. The current budget for DVS is less than a tenth of that amount.

New York City’s budget must not be balanced on the backs of veterans and their families—a population that has been under-served for decades by our city’s government, and that DVS has only begun to reach out to over these last few years. And unlike many other agencies, DVS brings a clear return for the investment made; when veterans and their families are able to access more of the federal and state benefits and services they have earned, it reduces the cost of city services for this population, and it also brings federal funding into communities that most need it. As it continues to build agency infrastructure and refine its mission and outreach, DVS has the potential to bring in a substantial return on our city’s investment.

With respect to DVS staffing, we are pleased to see the inclusion of an HR Generalist in the staffing proposal. This is an important step, and we look forward to the important work the HR Generalist will undertake. What is not included in the staffing proposal is an Agency Chief Contracting Officer (ACCO). As we have stated in previous testimonies before the veterans committee and discussions with Chair Deutsch, we strongly urge the Council to allocate funding in DVS’s budget for a dedicated ACCO with the specialized expertise in the city’s contracting and procurement processes. We believe DVS would be enhanced by an ACCO with the right expertise, relationships, and sense of urgency for veteran priorities. The delays that have taken place over the last three years in bringing VetConnectNYC under DVS management would likely have been mitigated by in-house contracting and procurement expertise. An ACCO would also bring the capability of providing meaningful oversight of discretionary funding from the Council to organizations serving veterans based on their expertise and knowledge of the veterans community. We ask the Committee: will you advocate for inclusion of an ACCO in DVS’s budget?

We also continue to call for more effective and transparent metrics for success in DVS’s programming. For example, the Veterans Employment Pay for Success Program should have more robust metrics attached to it. The amount projected in the FY 2019 budget for the VA-orchestrated Veterans Employment Pay for Success Program proposes a social impact investment pilot for NYC, with payment by NYC for employment outcomes for veterans with PTSD. We appreciate this innovative program, but we urge the committee to ensure the program is accompanied by robust metrics for success prior to any further funding. The DVS agency, staff, and programming are supported by NYC taxpayers. We believe there should be transparency in the form of more effective qualitative data reporting. We strongly urge this Committee to call for DVS to focus on enhanced data refining and more cost-effective delivery of information and services for veterans and the broader taxpaying public.

We also ask that information about the programmatic work done by DVS in conjunction with funds raised under the Mayor’s Fund for Advancing NYC be made available for public review. While not part of the city's budget, we realize DVS has been utilizing philanthropic funds for veterans programming through the Mayor's Fund. Veterans are not mentioned in last year’s annual report for the Mayor's Fund, and we are interested in how we might learn more about this funding and how the city is utilizing it for the benefit of veterans. We believe this would help to create a fuller picture of DVS’s programming and impacts as a city agency, and build trust with the community it serves.

We look forward to continued dialogue and partnership with DVS as it continues to grow and work toward serving the NYC veterans community. On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.