Public Purpose Fund grants, on which many Island organizations rely, are saved – for now.
The Island’s Assembly Member, Rebecca Seawright, has been on the case, working with members of the Residents Association’s Government Relations Committee (GRC) and two RIOC Board members.
As the past week has proceeded in the State Legislature, while Senators and Assembly Members were focused intently on renewing freshly expired rent-regulation legislation, another bill was sitting just off-stage awaiting its big moment. It has the effect of giving RIOC permission to award up to three percent of its operating budget to Island non-profits. By late Wednesday, it had passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, where Senator Jose Serrano is the sponsor. It will now go to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature, which is apparently expected.
Specifically, new language is added to the 1984 law that created and governs the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation:
"Not-for-profit grant distribution:
1. The Corporation is authorized to provide financial assistance in the form of grants to not-for-profit corporations or governmental agencies that provide direct services or benefits to the residents of Roosevelt Island, not to exceed 3% of the operating budget of the corporation, and upon the approval of a majority of the entire Board of the corporation."
It also adds a reporting requirement:
"2. On or before May 1, 2016, the corporation shall post a report on its website that shall list and describe the purpose of each grant issued between 2010 and 2015. Such report shall also describe the resulting public benefit of each grant."
Seawright said, “This legislation ensures that valuable programs on Roosevelt Island will continue to receive the support they need to improve the quality of life for Roosevelt Islanders. My office worked closely with the Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s Government Relations Committee and Senators Jose Serrano and Marty Golden to draft a bill that will support local not-for-profits and government agencies that serve Roosevelt Islanders. We are very pleased that our teamwork resulted in a successful outcome thus far.”
Senator Serrano said, “For over 25 years, the RIOC Board has been providing much needed funding of vital services for the Roosevelt Island community. I am pleased to have worked with my Roosevelt Island colleagues Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright and City Council Member Ben Kallos on this important issue. I’m grateful that this bill has passed both houses of the legislature.”
RIOC had already restarted the grant application process. The Residents Association plays a role, making recommendations to the RIOC Board for allocation of the $100,000 available to Island non-profits. This week, RIOC will distribute application forms to the organizations that submitted a Letter of Intent by the January deadline, before a policy statement by the Authorities Budget Office created confusion and caused a temporary halt. The organizations will submit their applications to RIOC, which will review them and hand them off to RIRA’s Public Purpose Funds Committee by late July. The Committee will review them, then make allocation recommendations to the full Common Council at its October meeting (earlier if possible). After Common Council approval, the recommendations will be sent to the RIOC Board for review and approval – and the non-profits will finally have PPF funding for 2015. The new bill also provides for 2016 funding. At present, it’s not clear whether a permanent solution will require additional legislation.
In the Legislature, as part of a secondary (but important) process, the existing RIOC law (chapter 899 of the laws of 1984) will ultimately be moved into the Public Authorities Law, to consolidate it with all the other legislation creating and governing State authorities and public benefit corporations, with the purpose of making the operations of the authorities more transparent. Residents working with Seawright’s office have been assured that the change, prompted by current legislative policy, is purely technical, and that it’s not likely to have any effect on RIOC operations, nor will it take away RIOC’s ability to make Public Purpose grants. However, late on Thursday, it wasn’t clear that the relevant Senate committee would vote this bill out for consideration by the full Senate before the 2015 legislative session ends this week. (As of Tuesday, legislative staffers had been advised to remain available for possible weekend duty.)
Rebecca Graham, Counsel to Seawright, commented, “You have a great group of activists there. It was an absolute honor to work with them on this.”
RIRA’s Government Relations Committee members are Joyce Short (Chair), Ron Davidson, Dave Evans, Vicki Feinmel, Linda Heimer, Sherie Helstien, Matt Katz, Ellen Polivy, Ilonka Salisbury, and Melissa Wade. RIOC Board members Margie Smith and Howard Polivy, and former GRC Chair Ashton Barfield, also contributed substantially to the work on the legislation.