Who’s Behind a New Public-Private Partnership to Pull People With Disabilities Out of Poverty?


Philanthropic funding for people with disabilities is often focused on basic needs and setting adults up with accessible and worthwhile jobs. But in New York, there’s an effort kicking off that goes a bit further to bring disabled people into the local economy and help them to overcome poverty.

New York is the first city to be part of a multi-year national initiative called Empowered Cities, which is all about the financial empowerment and inclusion for people with disabilities. The initiative was recently launched with $2 million in support from funders.

So, who’s behind this effort, and how will the New York partnership work?

To start, the $2 million commitment to launch Empowered Cities came from Citi Community Development (CCD), and $1 million will support EmpoweredNYC. CCD has been very involved in New York City philanthropy lately, giving $1 million toward the first city-wide community land trust and supporting a municipal service design studio to improve services for low-income New Yorkers.

The new partnership centered on people with disabilities includes CCD, the de Blasio administration and the National Disability Institute. The Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities, the Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment, the Poses Family Foundation, and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC are also in the mix to push this initiative along.

The Mayor’s Fund is an important link between big corporations like Citi, as well as other private donors and local government organizations in New York. It has over 1,000 individual funding partners for its current projects. Meanwhile, 30 city agencies and offices are supported by the Mayor’s Fund to address local issues like youth workforce, mental health and immigration.

Mayor's funds have sprung up in other cities, and we've reported that the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles, created just a few years ago, has reeled in a lot of donors and gained momentum, with more extensive programming that puts philanthropic dollars to use for public goals. But New York remains far ahead of other cities in orchestrating these kinds of partnerships across multiple issue areas. 

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This particular New York pilot program aims to address the disproportionate rate of poverty among people with disabilities and share lessons learned with municipalities elsewhere in the country. It provides broad engagement and education for people with disabilities and their families about finances, and sets up one-on-one counseling sessions for them. Finally, the initiative provides support for people with disabilities who are transitioning to work with financial guidance related to employment. With financial security as one of the top concerns for disabled people in New York, this kind of programming is emerging at an ideal time in the economic cycle.

“When all New Yorkers can fully benefit from all of our city’s educational, cultural and economic opportunities, we all benefit,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, in a press release. “With access to training, counseling and expanded resources New Yorkers with disabilities and their families will have more of the tools they need to lead successful, independent lives.”

It is estimated that around one million people in New York (at least 12 percent of the city's population) have a disability. These New Yorkers are twice as likely to live in poverty, so this is a perfect place to pilot this sort of partnership. It will be interesting to see how the model works and how replicable it is. Management and training of financial counselors for EmpoweredNYC will be overseen by the Department of Consumer Affairs.