NEW YORK — A nationwide surge in food and gas prices has hit particularly hard for some nonprofits serving vulnerable New Yorkers.

For organizations that care for adults with disabilities and are responsible for providing three meals a day for thousands of residents, visits to the grocery story have “become a weekly exercise in sticker shock,” said Matthew Zebatto, the CEO of Life’s WORC.

Zebatto’s nonprofit gets state funding to run group homes for about 2,000 adults with disabilities in Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.

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“The cost of supply and food items we use on a daily basis has skyrocketed from a year ago, including beef, chicken, eggs and all cleaning products,” he added.

Prior to last year, a single group home spent an average of $1,000 a month on food, Zebatto said. Last year, monthly meat costs rose to an average of $1,500 per home, he said.

Zebatto said the organization spent about $1.4 million on food in the last fiscal year — up between 18% and 27% from the $1.1 million to $1.2 million it has typically spent on ingredients.

The cost of fuel to run Life’s WORC’s fleet of 140 cars and vans has also spiked in tandem with the nationwide rise in gas prices, more than doubling from last year’s $72,000 in expenditures to $180,000 this year, Zebatto added.

All told, the group went $1 million over its projected budget in fiscal year 2022, forcing the nonprofit to cut down on some enrichment activities like vacations and community outings, and lean more heavily on private fundraising.

“You have to be creative, nimble and flexible,” Zebatto said.

Life’s WORC isn’t alone in struggling with the elevated prices.

Charles Evdos, the executive director of RISE Life Services, which cares for hundreds of adults with disabilities throughout Long Island, said the effect of rising food and fuel prices has been “astronomical.”

The organization’s food costs rose by more than 10% last fiscal year, which ended in July, contributing to a decision not to fill several open staff positions, Evdos said.

Consumer prices rose 9.1% across the country from June 2021 to June 2022, with food prices up an estimated 10.4% and gas prices up 60% before starting to fall in recent weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organizations like Zebatto’s and Evdos’ are particularly vulnerable because they’re funded almost entirely by the state, and can’t raise their own prices to offset the rising costs, the nonprofit executives said.

The state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which distributes the Medicaid reimbursements that fund the groups, gave its contractors a 5.4% cost of living increase last year. But providers said that was the first funding bump they’ve received in years, and wasn’t enough to offset the rising prices let alone give front line staff the raise they deserved, Evdos and Zebatto said.

“Because of the inflation costs, we couldn’t pass all of that along 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 departing for higher-paying jobs.

Erin Silk, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of People With Developmental Disabilities, said the agency, “recognizes that the current effects of rising inflation and cost-of-living increases are placing a burden 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 financial pressures.”

Silk added that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul suspended the state tax on motor fuel as of June 1, and that the budget authorized signing bonuses of up to $3,000 for frontline staff at nonprofits.

Zebatto said he’s not waiting around for additional public support. His organization has stepped up its private fundraising efforts and is exploring new ways to cut costs, including teaming up with other nonprofits in the field to buy food in greater bulk.

© New York Daily News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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