Protecting and Strengthening the NYC’s Social Safety Net Amid COVID-19 in Council’s Budget Response 

Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Finance Committee Chair Daniel Dromm and Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair Vanessa Gibson Outline Steps to Protect and Strengthen the City’s Social Safety Net Amid COVID-19 in Council’s Budget Response 

The following on this page is a press release from the Office of the City Council

New York, NY – Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Finance Committee Chair Daniel Dromm, Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair Vanessa Gibson and the City Council released today the Council’s response to the Mayor’s Fiscal 2021 Preliminary Budget. The Preliminary Budget was released in January – three months ago when the city was a drastically different place. The impact of COVID-19 on our economy has been much like the effect of the virus itself – sudden and with a quick decline.

As a result, the Preliminary Financial Plan no longer seems an appropriate starting point for the assessment of where the City’s budget should end up by the end of the fiscal year. The priorities of our government and our budget clearly have shifted drastically.

Therefore, the response to the Preliminary Budget that the Council offers this year contains our estimation of the components of the baseline budget that are essential and must be preserved even in the face of impending budget cuts. We recognize that revenues are decreasing because of severely reduced business activity, deferred tax collections, and a sharp drop in tourism. And we understand that a substantial amount of resources will be needed to combat the spread of coronavirus and to protect the health and safety of our people and the heroic essential workers. However, as we make the tough decisions about where to find savings and efficiencies, it is imperative that the basic social safety net programs remain untouched, and in some cases expanded with additional investments.

While this response by its nature focuses on the City’s budget, it is crucial that our City and State leadership continue to press the federal government for additional stimulus and recovery funding. The City’s ability to stabilize its economy, help the tens of thousands of newly unemployed or underemployed workers, provide loans to small businesses, and pay for the public health response to the virus hinges on federal assistance.

As the City begins to recover from this crisis, we look forward to partnering with the Administration to discuss how funding will need to shift to restart the economy, revive youth programming, including the Summer Youth Employment Program, and address the continuing repercussions of the rise in unemployment.

The Council’s budget response includes recommendations to protect and increase support in seven key areas. Please read the response following this link: https://council.nyc.gov/press/2020/04/07/1924/

Highlights are:

Maintaining Public Health

The Council urges the Administration to continue to prioritize and maintain services that focus on the prevention and identification of infectious diseases; provide needed mental health supports; address health disparities in New York City’s communities of color that cause an excess burden of ill health and premature mortality, including obesity, diabetes, and maternal mortality; support the full range of health services; and conduct surveillance of environmental-related diseases. This crisis – and the disparities in communities that appear to be most impacted by this pandemic – has taught us that we must prioritize public health for the good of all of our City.

Addressing Food Insecurity

The Council calls on the Administration to invest at least $25 million in food pantries, expand all City feeding programs, and increase food allowances for all emergency housing programs. With the drop in employment, thousands more New Yorkers are food insecure.

Protecting the Senior Population

New York City is home to about 1.2 million New Yorkers over the age of 60, and before the coronavirus pandemic, many relied on the city for support. Amid this crisis, the Council calls on the Administration to ensure that every older adult who requests a meal receives one and to adequately fund the enhanced need for senior services.

Keeping New Yorkers Housed

The Council urges the Administration to fund a robust rental voucher program, move families out of shelters into vacant units, invest in homeless street solutions, and expand anti-eviction services, and preserve NYCHA’s affordable housing stock. At the start of this pandemic, New York City was in the midst of an affordable housing and homelessness crisis. The pandemic is likely to lead to even further housing instability in our city. We must continue to try and tackle this problem. The Council has always maintained that the key is investing in long-term solutions, like supportive and permanent housing. This is more than just being compassionate – it is also more financially prudent. The average daily cost for a single adult is $124 in a shelter, with an average length stay for that same adult at around one year and two months. That means it costs the city $51,300 to house one individual during an average shelter stay. For roughly the same cost, a rental voucher could house someone for a year and five months.

Supporting Human Services Providers

The Council urges the Administration to continue to support human services providers by ensuring that workers feel protected, safe, and properly compensated; that contracts reflect the increased costs associated with COVID-19; and that agencies allow flexibility in contract scope and services.

Protecting Tenants and Small Property Owners

The Council calls on the Administration to support a rent relief and deferral program for adversely impacted families and implement tax deferral programs for struggling homeowners and small property owners. Until the pandemic is under control, many New Yorkers will not be able to meet their financial obligations. This is why we need we need to take several steps, including supporting a rent deferral and relief program for adversely impacted renters that lasts the duration of the crisis; calling on large property owners to step up like they did in the 1970s and prepay their entire Fiscal 2021 property tax bill on July 1 to provide the City with cash flow to be able to offer assistance programs to those who were harder hit. We should fund interest forgiveness and tax deferral to low- and moderate-income homeowners, small commercial owners, hotels, and rental building owners who provide rental relief to tenants.

Supporting Small Business

It is critical small businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis until activity is back to normal. To weather the storm, the Council urges the Administration to implement measures to stabilize the small business community. Businesses have certain bills that need to be paid whether or not they are operating, such as rent, utilities, loan payments, insurance costs, and taxes. Getting cash to small businesses during this crucial period is essential and the Administration should continue targeted tax and municipal deferrals and expand the NYC Small Business Continuity Loan Program to reach more businesses and provide larger loans.

“The upcoming budget negotiations will involve many tough choices, but it is clear that there are certain basic items that should remain protected, including investments in public health and the social safety net.  This is a crisis unlike any we have ever seen, but I believe in New York City. We have faced tough challenges before, and have come back stronger every time. These strategic investments outlined in this response will help us get back on our feet,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“The City must deliver for the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on our social safety net in this time of great need. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to our city and to the budgeting process. There is a lot of uncertainty but one thing is clear: services that keep New Yorkers housed, fed, healthy and open for business should remain strong. Because the need for many of these services will only grow in the coming months, New York City needs to prioritize them to the fullest extent possible so that no one falls through the cracks. I stand with Speaker Johnson and Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair Gibson in urging the administration to devise a budget that will lift New York City’s most vulnerable up and move the city forward,” said Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm

“Our communities are struggling as a result of COVID-19 and the projections are that the situation is going to get worse. The number of residents applying for unemployment benefits and public assistance skyrocketed over the past few weeks and that number could increase as businesses continue to close. Millions of New Yorkers rely on social safety net programs and city services for financial relief and substantial cuts to these programs will have an adverse effect on families across all five boroughs. I implore Mayor de Blasio and the administration as we look for ways to reduce costs, to ensure that we keep economic protections in place for low income New Yorkers and other vulnerable populations. Together with Speaker Corey Johnson, my colleagues in the Council, and the Administration, I look forward to achieving a fiscally responsible budget that recognizes our current climate, but also protects and values important programs that New Yorkers are dependent on,” said Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair Vanessa Gibson.