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Behind the Red Tape: Struggles are real for underpaid nonprofit workers

Behind the Red Tape: Struggles are real for underpaid nonprofit workers
Behind the Red Tape: Struggles are real for underpaid nonprofit workers 03:15

NEW YORK -- For weeks, CBS2 has been shining a light on the struggle nonprofits serving New York City have paying their bills -- often due to red tape.

Now, political reporter Marcia Kramer is exposing another problem. The people who do this critical work with the young, the old and the underserved are dramatically underpaid, and they're often women of color.

It's the daily ritual for Jewell Campbell, the director of youth programs at a Lower East side elementary school that is run by the nonprofit University Settlement. She starts the day early by getting her daughter, Hailey, ready for school.

She does Hailey's hair and they pack lunch. There's even time for sharing lovies with the family cat.

But the picture of domestic bliss and maternal love hides the overriding fear of Campbell's life. How much longer can she afford to do the job she adores, developing and creating afterschool programs at P.S. 63, and still take care of her family?

"It's hard to live in the city when you're not being paid enough," Campbell said. "I actually work part time on Sundays just to make sure to make ends meet."

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Her problem is experienced by thousands in the nonprofit world -- organizations that depend on city grants can pay their workers only a fraction of what they're worth.

"Someone in the DOE would probably make anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 more than I do and I'm coming in with three degrees and years of experience," Campbell said.

Melissa Aase is the CEO of University Settlement, a 135-year-old nonprofit with a budget of $52 million in which $40 million comes from city grants.

She told CBS2 the combination of bureaucratic red tape and a refusal to increase funding for nonprofits makes it all but impossible for groups like hers to pay competitive salaries.

"It's not acceptable. It's inequitable and, quite frankly, it falls on the shoulders of women and women of color primarily because that's who is really doing this work," Aase said.

The work includes everything from youth and prenatal programs, to elder care, mental health and English language programs, and on and on.

READ MOREBehind the Red Tape: Nonprofits say they're not being paid due to New York City's strangling bureaucracy  

But because it can take the city as long as a year to actually pay the nonprofits, they have to borrow money to stay afloat, pay interest, and have difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

"It's a complete bureaucratic nightmare, but it's also more than that. It's not just the bureaucracy that we are working through and the red tape. It's the disrespect," Aase said.

"Every day I think I love this job and I want to keep doing it, but I can't afford to keep doing it because I have bills that are coming in high demand," Campbell said.

Aase admits that the city poaches her workers because it can offer higher pay. University Settlement has a 119-person vacancy rate right now. She said she hopes that the city and the state will come though with a promised cost-of-living increase for nonprofit workers.

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