New York nonprofits are battling food and fuel price inflation
A nationwide spike in food and gas prices has hit some nonprofits serving vulnerable New Yorkers particularly hard.
For organizations that care for adults with disabilities and are tasked with providing three meals a day to thousands of residents, grocery store visits have “become a weekly sticker-shock exercise,” said Matthew Zebatto, CEO of Life’s WORC.
Zebatto’s nonprofit organization obtains state funding to operate group homes for approximately 2,000 adults with disabilities in Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.
“The cost of supplies and groceries that we use daily have skyrocketed over the past year, including beef, chicken, eggs and all cleaning supplies,” he added.
Before last year, a single group home spent an average of $1,000 a month on food, Zebatto said. Last year, monthly meat costs averaged $1,500 per household, he said.
Zebatto said the organization spent about $1.4 million on food last fiscal year, an increase of between 18% and 27% from $1.1 million to $1.2 million. which she usually spent on ingredients.
The cost of fuel to run Life’s WORC’s fleet of 140 cars and vans has also risen in line with the national rise in gasoline prices, from $72,000 last year to $180,000 this year, added Zebatto.
In total, the group exceeded its budget for fiscal year 2022 by $1 million, forcing the nonprofit to reduce some enrichment activities like vacations and community outings, and to rely more on private fundraising.
“You have to be creative, nimble and flexible,” Zebatto said.
Life’s WORC isn’t alone in battling high prices.
Charles Evdos, executive director of RISE Life Services, which cares for hundreds of adults with disabilities across Long Island, said the effect of rising food and fuel prices has been “astronomical.”
The organization’s food costs rose more than 10% in the last fiscal year, which ended in July, which contributed to the decision not to fill several vacancies, Evdos said.
Consumer prices rose 9.1% nationwide from June 2021 to June 2022, with food prices rising around 10.4% and gasoline prices up 60% before they started. to decline in recent weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Organizations like Zebatto and Evdos are particularly vulnerable because they are funded almost entirely by the state and cannot raise their own prices to offset rising costs, nonprofit leaders said.
The state Office for the Developmentally Disabled, which distributes Medicaid reimbursements that fund the groups, gave its contractors a 5.4% cost-of-living increase last year. But providers said it was the first funding increase they had received in years and was not enough to offset the price hike, let alone give frontline staff the raise he deserved, Evdos and Zebatto said.
“Because of inflationary costs, we couldn’t pass all this on to the staff,” Zebatto said.
He added that rising consumer prices have also put economic pressure on frontline staff, who are already paid close to minimum wage and are increasingly leaving for better-paying jobs.
Erin Silk, spokesperson for the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said the agency “recognizes that the current effects of rising inflation and rising cost of living are weighing on service delivery. The 5.4% cost-of-living adjustments authorized in this year’s budget will provide more than $450 million in new resources to state agencies on an annual basis to address staff compensation and other other financial pressures.
Silk added that Governor Hochul suspended the state fuel tax effective June 1 and the budget authorized signing bonuses of up to $3,000 for frontline staff at nonprofits.
Zebatto said he did not expect additional public support. His organization has stepped up its private fundraising efforts and is exploring new ways to cut costs, including partnering with other nonprofits on the ground to buy more food.