25 January, 2024

The People's Money: NYC's Participatory Budgeting and the Borough Assembly Committees

Last year the Sortition Foundation embarked upon our first-ever US project, where we supported the New York City Civic Engagement Commission to select by lottery five representative and diverse Borough Assembly Committees in their citywide participatory budgeting process, The People's Money.  

How The People's Money Works: A Four-Phase Democratic Process

The 4 stages of the people's money process. 1. Idea generation, 2. Project development, 3. Citywide Voting, 4. Project implementation

Phase One: Idea Generation

In the initial phase, all New Yorkers aged 11 and older, irrespective of immigration status, were invited to submit their project ideas to address specific needs in their communities. This open call for ideas aimed to tap into the collective wisdom and creativity of the city's diverse population. The result was thousands of proposals generated reflecting the genuine concerns and desires of New Yorkers.

Phase Two: Idea Development

The second phase introduced Borough Assembly Committees, which deliberated on the submitted ideas for two months. These committees represent part of a global movement for Deliberative Democracy. We deployed our sortition process to ensure that the Assembly Committees were fairly selected of a demographically representative group of residents.

The committees were organized into subcommittees focusing on various areas such as health, workers' rights, senior services, and education. Through a series of assemblies, members shared their lived experiences and deepened their understanding of the challenges unique to their boroughs. This collaborative effort allowed the committees to select projects that would best serve their communities to appear on the citywide ballot.

Watch the Borough Assemblies at work on Youtube
Phase Three: Citywide Voting

The third phase put the projects to the vote with a massive outreach campaign both online and in-person, in multiple languages, at sites across the five boroughs resulting in an impressive 25,339 digital and 85,032 paper ballots being cast.

Phase Four: Project Implementation

The 46 projects with the most votes were funded to a total of $5 million. All of the projects funded by The People's Money have to be deliverable during the municipal year, so many have already been implemented or are still being delivered as the next round of the participatory budgeting process kicks off.

Here’s a sample of some of brilliant the projects that received a share of The People’s Money. 

  • Financial Literacy Classes for Youth
  • Trauma-Informed Childcare Workshops 
  • Youth Life Skills Workshops
  • Strengthen Mental Health Programs for 9-13 Year Olds
  • Parenting Education Program for Single and Teen Parents
  • Field Trips for Elementary and Middle Schoolers
  • Delivery of Nutritious Meals for Homebound Seniors
  • Trade Skills and Vocational Resources for Students
  • Housing Resource Outreach
  • Healthy Lifestyle Guidance for Kids
  • Parent Support and Wellness Services
  • Young Entrepreneurs Program
Staten Island
  • Staten Island Job Link

Equity neighbourhoods

In addition 33 neighbourhoods were identified by the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity as the most heavily impacted by COVID-19, as well as communities that have a high percentage of other health and socioeconomic disparities. At the time the Taskforce was established, these communities accounted for over 50% of all the City's COIVD-19 cases. Programs in these neighbourhoods each received $50,000 for additional projects, here's a few examples:

Bronx Equity Neighbourhoods
  • Neighbourhood Cleanup in Tremont
  • Coding 101 for BIPOC Youth
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshops
  • Financial Literacy and Housing Assistance
Brooklyn Equity Neighbourhoods
  • Multicultural Arts and Creative Wellness Program
  • Job Readiness and Certification Assistance
  • Housing Support for Populations in Need
Manhattan Equity Neighbourhoods
  • East Harlem Mindfulness
  • Making Food Accessible
Queens Equity Neighbourhoods
  • Youth Drug Prevention Workshops
  • Basic Necessities for Families
  • Mental Health for Indo-Caribbean and South Asian Families
  • Immigration Resources Center
  • Staten Island Equity Neighbourhood
  • Immigrant Workers' Rights Education Project

Historical Context: The Evolution of Participatory Budgeting in NYC

The People's Money is a culmination of the evolution of Participatory Budgeting in New York City. Originating in 2011 as PBNYC, the initiative gained momentum over the years. In 2018, a citywide referendum led to the creation of the Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) and mandated the implementation of a yearly citywide PB program, resulting in The People's Money.

In 2022, the Mayor and the CEC launched the first citywide cycle in collaboration with 82 community partners. This ground breaking initiative has not only allocated funds to vital projects but has also strengthened the bonds between communities, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and empowerment among New Yorkers.

As the funded projects are now in the process of implementation, The People's Money is showing the transformative power of inclusive decision-making in the real world. New York City is setting a remarkable precedent, demonstrating that when given the opportunity, the people have the wisdom to chart a path towards a more equitable and resilient future.

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