Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/111 Tue, 07 Jul 2020 20:30:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As Unemployment and Crime Spike, City Plan for Disconnected Young Adults Remains Years Behind Schedule https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9566-unemployment-crime-spike-city-plan-disconnected-youth-years-behind-schedule https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9566-unemployment-crime-spike-city-plan-disconnected-youth-years-behind-schedule Bill de Blasio speaking street group

The mayor is behind on a plan for disconnected youth (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


A city task force meant to address the needs of out-of-school, out-of-work youth in the city, who pre-pandemic numbered at over 118,000 in New York City, has not yet released its report, over two years after it was due. Now, with over 35% of young adults in the city unemployed and gun violence increasing, advocates like Marjorie Parker of JobsFirstNYC, an advocacy group that was a driving force behind the task force, say that Mayor Bill de Blasio has no real plan for the young people who need it most.

“The mayor has had no plan for this significant group of Black and brown kids,” Parker said in an interview. “For a progressive mayor who got such support from Black and brown groups and came into office with such high expectations, his response to this particular population has been disappointing.”

The Disconnected Youth Task Force was created by City Council legislation in 2017 and championed by Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a Brooklyn Democrat who was then chair of the Council’s Youth Services Committee. The task force was meant to bring together city agencies and outsider partners to “examine the obstacles to education and employment for disconnected youth and to make recommendations regarding measures to improve outcomes for disconnected youth.”

The Disconnected Youth Task Force was formed with 20 members, including 10 city officials, eight nonprofit leaders, a CUNY representative, and a youth representative. The city officials include representatives from the Departments of Education, Homeless Services, Youth and Community Development, and Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the Administration for Child Services, and several mayoral offices. Besides JobsFirstNYC, other nonprofits represented on the task force include the Fortune Society and the Young Men’s Initiative.

Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson, who hosted the task force’s first meeting in February 2019, said at the time, “The de Blasio administration is implementing a comprehensive strategy that involves working more closely with industries and companies to create relationships and partnerships that help move at-risk people into long-term careers.”

Since then, the task force has rarely met, according to Parker, and blown past its deadlines. The original Council legislation set a March 2018 deadline for its initial report. More than two years later, no report has been published. Both Parker and a spokesperson for the mayor's office say a draft is circulating.

In JobsFirstNYC’s testimony before the City Council’s Youth Services Committee, at a June 23 hearing focused on youth services nonprofit contracting during the pandemic, the organization expressed its displeasure with the Council’s “lack of leadership” on the issue. JobsFirstNYC has also criticized de Blasio for not including a working group specifically focused on young adults as part of his “infrastructure of recovery” advisory councils in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. De Blasio has appointed several advisory councils, including on both labor and workforce development and education and vocational training.

According to Parker, the Disconnected Youth Task Force began circulating a draft report among its members a few days after the committee hearing, but this meager progress still comes over two years after the report was due. “There has not been a plan at the city level around how to comprehensively address this group,” Parker told Gotham Gazette. “The mayor has not paid any attention to this particular group of young people.”

A nonprofit that focuses on what it terms a crisis of disengaged and disconnected teenagers and young adults in the city, JobsFirstNYC has completed research finding that this group is concentrated in 18 neighborhoods in the city, all but one of which is predominantly populated by people of color.

Now, young adults are one of the groups in the city’s workforce hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic fallout, with City Comptroller Scott Stringer estimating that the unemployment rate for young adults was 35% in June. Parker says this costs the city “immeasurably.” In one measure, her organization has found that the city’s economy “loses almost $400,000” for each out-of-school, out-of-work young adult, given that unemployed youth aren’t able to contribute tax revenue or to the city’s economic activity.

JobsFirstNYC has advocated that New York City adopt a "single system strategy" for addressing disconnected youth, as other cities such as Los Angeles have done, where “there is no wrong point of entry for a young person into the system” and “it’s built in a way that young people cannot get lost in the system. Wherever they show up they can get reconnected to the person who was their original point of entry into the system. It’s very comprehensive and responsive.”

The organization outlined what it would like to see in a policy paper offered to guide the task force. With such a strategy, city government and nonprofit partners would share data with each other, coordinate funding strategies, enable easier access for young people to enter the system, and be more responsive to individual needs such as housing, food, mental health care, and job training. Goals include ensuring that there is no “wrong” entry point for an out-of-school, out-of-work young person to start in the system and minimal opportunities for them to fall through the cracks through greater coordination between the city and its partners.

“I don’t think this mayor has a very good understanding about how all those systems connect,” Parker told Gotham Gazette. “The Mayor has never shown any particular interest in this group,” referring to out-of-school, out-of-work young adults, and that “this group has never been a priority for him.”

“We want the city to produce a plan and put resources behind it,” she said, while emphasizing the role of nonprofits, many of whom receive funding from the city that is imperiled due to budget cuts.

Parker also says the City Council can and should do more, saying it “needs to be pressing the mayor to invest in youth workforce development starting in the fall.” While Council Member Eugene and his colleagues pushed through the legislation to create the task force, there’s been virtually no urgency from Eugene or other Council members, including current youth services committee chair Council Member Deborah Rose, to get its work to conclusion.

Rose, a Staten Island Democrat, has made the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) a major focus, and helped lead the Council effort to resuscitate it in the adopted budget passed last after a deal with the mayor, who had cut the program when presenting his executive budget earlier this year. That will provide paid work opportunities for more than 100,000 young people this summer.

But Parker noted that the city has never had a plan for what to do with its young workers once summer ends, which risks many out-of-school, out-of-work youth falling through the cracks. Furthermore, Parker does not believe a more recent mayoral effort, CareerReadyNYC, properly attends to the needs of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults. CareerReadyNYC, with the goal of preparing young New Yorkers for stable careers, focuses on young people who are already in work or school, but who are “not on pathways to upward mobility.”

De Blasio’s office says the Disconnected Youth Task Force is finally nearing completion of its report. “The final report is being reviewed by Task Force members and is expected to be released in the coming months,” according to a spokesperson for the mayor, who did not provide a more specific estimate of the report’s release.

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Monday, de Blasio addressed the recent rise in gun violence, blaming the “many issues underlying this challenge” including that “the court system is not working, the economy's not working, [and] people have been pent up for months and months.”

“[W]e have to think about all of the tools we can bring to bear here, including how we deploy our police and the approaches they take, how we focus on young people and make sure we pull them away from the influences that are negative around them,” de Blasio said. “We have a lot to do.”

Advocates like Parker worry that young adults are currently in a desperately precarious position and at risk of being left behind.

“JobsFirstNYC remains concerned that because this effort is three years behind schedule, the city lacks the necessary resources and infrastructure to respond to the crisis situation young adults are faced with in the midst of a pandemic,” according to JobsFirstNYC spokesperson Kevin Stump.

“Any forthcoming report should include how much money the city will invest and should have a clear set of goals with timelines and who is accountable as well as a way to measure progress against those goals.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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As Unemployment and Crime Spike, City Plan for Disconnected Young Adults Remains Years Behind Schedule Mon, 06 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Deconstructing the #DefundNYPD Clash with City Council Members of Color https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9563-city-council-members-of-color-defund-nypd-budget-boards https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9563-city-council-members-of-color-defund-nypd-budget-boards Cumbo NYPD city budget

Council Member Cumbo (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Defending her vote in support of a new city budget that did not cut NYPD funding by at least $1 billion (as New York City faces a $10 billion COVID-19-related revenue shortfall) Brooklyn City Council Member Laurie Cumbo told protesters criticizing the plan: "Work under the existing leadership of the communities that are already there."

Cumbo compared the development of the #DefundNYPD movement to "colonization" and said, "this movement is not being led by the Black community."

She and several other Council members of color made it sound like protests against state violence and inequality in city resource allocation had come out of nowhere from parts unknown. Did the few Black and Latino Council members who voted against the budget over lack of NYPD cuts blindly follow a movement of outsiders? Cumbo’s former chief of operations quickly rejected Cumbo’s narrative.

In a late-night tweetstorm Crystal Hudson listed 10 leading Black organizers, whose groups are among the over 170 organizations pushing to #DefundNYPD that Cumbo and other members have no doubt encountered during their time in the Council. The movement against state violence has been and is today led by marginalized peoples, Black women, Latino, Asian, immigrant, and LGBTQ.

Yes, there are many new people engaging in local politics, some are new residents in communities facing gentrification, and some of them eyeing elected seats in districts they recently moved to (an article for another day). But the vast majority of #DefundNYPD activists are simply people fighting to divest from policing and incarceration and to reinvest that money in those who most need it. And though Council members resent being the subjects of criticism and desperate pleas to do more, as the old saying goes, “It’s not about you.”

Many New York City Council members of color say that in their communities people aren't screaming for police defunding or abolition. One wonders, did they just close their windows each time a #BlackLivesMatter protest marched by their house? It is true that this year’s #BlackLivesMatter protests have engaged far more white people than they did when Eric Garner was killed, but in response to those protests the Council voted through a budget that added 1,300 new police officers. What Black or Latino Council member can honestly say their communities were screaming “Build new jails!“ when they approved billions to do just that in 2019? (None.)

Though to Cumbo’s point, when Council members of color and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea claim the community is asking for more police, there is truth there. The question is, which community are they referring to? Common community venues politicians and police leaders tell protesters to get involved in include local meetings of Community Boards and Precinct Community Councils. While community boards are not uniform -- multiple CBs passed resolutions in support of #DefundNYPD, including East Harlem's CB11 calling to #DefundNYPD by at least $1B in FY21 -- they’re generally more police-friendly organizations than the broader neighborhoods they are part of.

Community Boards are appointed by the local Borough President and City Council member. Local electeds don't often choose a bunch of people who think far differently than they do. There’s no public reason given as to why one is or is not chosen to a community board and many appointees have existing relationships with local electeds. Members are often removed from community board committees or not reappointed to CBs for rocking the political boat. As all-volunteer entities chosen by politicos where dissenting voices are not always welcome, community boards are not often viewed as a functional space where meaningful change can happen or be pursued. Because New York City has a dearth of local civics education, most don’t even know that it is the first rung of city government, a feeder for elected office (several sitting Council members, including the Speaker, are former community board chairs and more are former CB members).  

If you’ve ever gone to a community board meeting in a Black or Latino neighborhood you might feel like you stepped into a world where #BlackLivesMatter never happened. There isn’t a lot of reimagining public safety outside of police. Fear of returning to the "bad old days" of the 1970s and ‘80s reigns.

A return to the “bad old days” is the ultimate political boogeyman in New York City politics. It can quickly undermine substantive policy arguments in almost any public safety conversation. Of course, crime and cops not responding, were just part of planned disinvestment of the past. Many community board members in communities of color are old enough to have lived the last crisis even close to the one New York City now faces. They are reminded of the crime and divestment as they walk by firehouses and schools that have remained closed since their childhood or those recently converted to luxury developments.

Community boards trend older and more conservative. Property owners are overly represented, renters and the homeless under-represented. Black and Latino CB members often live in neighborhoods that face more police violence and gun violence than their white counterparts. Local police are accessible to and regularly engage with many community boards. When calls to reform or cut police come, community board members often think of the last shooting or the working relationships they have with officers who report to the community board and work community events.

At Precinct Community Council meetings in Black and Latino neighborhoods, you won't find many people who have been abused by or lost family members to police, virtually no one actively calling for reinvestment of NYPD funds into social services, and few immigrants. Why? Precinct Community Council meetings are held with many cops and most often in police precincts. Most of the agenda is dominated by Black and brown people literally begging the police to “deal with” homelessness, “deal with” substance abuse, “deal with” guys hanging out on the corner, and “deal with” the seven major crimes (murder, burglary, assault, car theft, and so on).

One can be from and "do the work" in Black and Latino neighborhoods in New York City and not spend a minute in politician- or cop-dominated/funded spaces (some would call this self-care).

Tons of longtime residents who do mutual aid, community, and anti-violence work -- who fight health disparities, hunger, gentrification, racism, homelessness, and deportations -- avoid Community Board and Precinct Community Council meetings like the plague.

#DefundNYPD was coming from all over Black and Latino neighborhoods in New York City. From non-profits getting their budgets cut, individuals losing their jobs, people facing eviction when the moratorium ends, the hungry, the homeless, families of those killed by police violence, and others.

This new city budget was always going to be lose-lose chaos. City Council members got the ball after Trump and the Feds refused to reimburse cities and states for COVID-19-caused revenue deficits. Cuomo cut Medicaid and wouldn't allow New York City to borrow money to fill the tax revenue gaps. Trump, Cuomo, and de Blasio all refused to raise taxes on the wealthy. De Blasio offered a tale of two cities budget that slashed education and hospitals while protecting police and the wealthiest.

Disparaging #DefundNYPD and using budgetary tricks to act like the city got far closer to (or over) $1 billion in NYPD cuts didn't fool a single person paying attention. People can read budgets (though no public copy of the full Fiscal Year 2021 budget was available before the Council vote) and see through the funny math the mayor and Council presented. To pretend NYPD cuts are more than reality just handed talking points to the right wing, who will now claim, as Trump and Staten Island Council Member Joseph Borelli already have, that crime is rising because of $1 billion or more in NYPD ‘cuts.’

Expecting that the NYPD face a substantial budget cut like virtually every other city agency during a depression is not "abolition." A substantial cut to the NYPD’s almost $6 billion budget was not radical. It should have been inevitable. It's what happens when tax revenue dips $10 billion, and no one can say how much deeper it will drop, or when or what recovery looks like.

The difficulty in making NYPD cuts comes not only from strong police unions, their military and surveillance capabilities, but the deep faith in policing that is still shared across the political aisle. For all of the social services the NYPD is involved in; there are people in and out of city government who for many years have called for cops to get more involved with them. People still call cops to "deal with" fireworks, kids smoking weed, and loud music. On an individual and structural level, we call cops like genies in a bottle then wonder why we can't hold police accountable or their budget in check, why police “reform” never gets at the root.

Investing in jails and police while cutting education and public health has never made our communities safer. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore explained when talking with the New York Times last year, abolition of police is not the absence of "safety.” Abolition is not just closing prisons and dismantling the police; it is creating and maintaining vital systems of support many of our communities lack.

At a local level, New Yorkers have stepped up for each other through the most heartbreaking of challenges. But at federal, state, and municipal levels we have not addressed the root causes of any of our compounding pandemics or their impact on mental health (see New Orleans after Katrina [1] [2]). Crime will almost certainly continue to rise in the coming months, and that is because of the existing racial and socioeconomic inequality COVID-19 has only exacerbated -- pre-existing conditions many elected officials still see as “fake” or too "unrealistic" to prioritize.

If those calling for defunding and abolition cannot effectively address the reasons people feel the need to call the police and cannot offer alternatives to calling police viewed as viable by those most impacted by non-police violence, then people will keep calling the cops, long past the next election.

If politicos in New York City’s Black and Latino neighborhoods don't open themselves to conversations on "public safety" not dominated by them or police and continue to dismiss calls to divest and abolish as stuff only people on Twitter and new residents to their districts who don't "do the work” care about, then they are making the political miscalculation of their lives.

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Andrew J. Padilla, an award-winning artist and educator born and raised in East Harlem, has lectured on urban politics across the country, from Hostos to Harvard, and is a proud member of Manhattan Community Board 11. On Twitter @apadillafilm6.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Deconstructing the #DefundNYPD Clash with City Council Members of Color Sun, 05 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9557-max-murphy-podcast-council-member-brad-lander-new-city-budget-nypd-funding https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9557-max-murphy-podcast-council-member-brad-lander-new-city-budget-nypd-funding cm chairs

City Council Member Brad Lander (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget

brad lander insetCity Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and 2021 candidate for city Comptroller, joined the show to discuss the new city budget, which he had voted "no" on just hours before this discussion.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

Max & Murphy · Episode 231: Council Member Brad Lander On The New City Budget

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio, City Council Agree on Contentious $88.2 Billion Crisis Budget with Focus on NYPD Shifts https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9554-de-blasio-city-council-88-2-billion-crisis-budget-focus-nypd-cuts https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9554-de-blasio-city-council-88-2-billion-crisis-budget-focus-nypd-cuts de blasio city

City budget announcement from 2019 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The New York City Council approved an $88.2 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year shortly after midnight in one of the most divided votes for the legislative body in recent history. The new budget, which takes effect immediately for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, is a sharp decline in expected city spending given cratering revenue brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and includes significant cuts to and funding shifts from the NYPD in response to recent mass protests against police brutality and over-policing. It passed with 32 "yes" votes and 17 "no" votes out of 50 (there is one vacant seat on the Council), with many Council members dissenting because they believed the cuts to the police department did not go far enough; yet others voted against the budget because they did not want to see any reduction in NYPD funding. 

With just hours to go before the midnight deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had separately announced on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on the budget. The NYPD funding issue was central to contentious negotiations between the de Blasio administration and the Council, with the final result touted by de Blasio but leaving frustrated Johnson and a number of Council members to both the speaker’s left and right. The compromise infuriated activists who criticized the budget choices and gimmicks used to get to what the mayor called a $1 billion cut that had been targeted by reformers but Johnson acknowledged had not been met in reality.

This year’s budget proved to be the toughest that de Blasio has had to navigate. After years of the city being flush with cash and the mayor and two City Council classes growing the budget by over $20 billion, the city faced a $9 billion revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. De Blasio had originally proposed a $95.3 billion spending plan in January and was forced to pare it down, while dipping $4 billion into reserves and finding about $2.7 billion from reductions to planned spending by city agencies and citywide savings.

Even as the bleak budget picture became starker and starker in March, April, and May, the city erupted into mass demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The NYPD responded with force, supported more often than not by the mayor, creating a critical mass movement to defund policing and reinvest resources in communities of color. Advocates demanded that the mayor cut the NYPD’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion, receiving support from the City Council Speaker and many members, who were already questioning in April why the mayor had left the police department untouched while slashing funds for the city’s social safety net and youth services.

De Blasio and Johnson chose to forego the traditional “budget handshake” that indicates the two sides have come to an agreement, holding separate news conferences on Tuesday to announce the deal.

Stuck in a tough spot, the mayor had hoped for federal stimulus funds that never arrived and had also sought fiscal borrowing authority from the state government, whose leaders were reluctant to grant it. Without either, he warned that the city would have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees beginning in October. He has said he will work with labor unions to find $1 billion in savings to avoid such dismissals, while continuing to seek both federal aid and state permission for borrowing, which has not been completely taken off the table.

“With all these challenges, we still found a way to get to a budget that, again, focuses on your health, your safety, putting food on your table, making sure you have a roof over your head. That's the focus,” the mayor said to New Yorkers on Tuesday from City Hall.

The changes in NYPD funding totaled about $1 billion according to de Blasio’s math – about $484 million in reduced spending (including a promised $296 million drop in overtime spending and from a reduction in NYPD headcount), and $354 million in shifts to other city agencies accompanied by $162 million in a shift of fringe benefits costs. The budget outlines an at least temporarily lowered NYPD headcount by 1,163 uniformed officers by canceling two of four cadet classes this year. There are currently about 36,000 uniformed officers. School safety and school crossing guards will be moved out from under the NYPD and restored to the Department of Education, while homeless outreach will shift to the Department of Homeless Services.

“This is a lot of redistribution, but it's still done in a way that is safe for this city,” de Blasio said, in response to reporters’ questions. “That is the balance that I said we had to strike, and we have struck this balance.”

One of de Blasio’s main priorities was to keep the officer headcount stable in order to ensure a similar level of neighborhood patrols as exist now, and he said he was pleased to report that would be the case.

Johnson, who had targeted a larger reduction in the police force, was visibly deflated when he detailed the Council’s many victories and concessions in his own news conference. “Heart-wrenching, impossible decisions needed to be made in this budget,” he said, “and this Council was determined that we would protect and preserve as many vital programs and services as we could for vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The speaker noted that the budget does not cut $1 billion in direct NYPD spending as he had wanted, but repeatedly emphasized that he had to balance the wants and needs of a diverse City Council as well as face a mayor who refused to budge very far. Many Council members had already pledged to vote against the budget if it did not achieve the $1 billion goal while others were critical of those cuts, citing an increase in crime over the last few months.

Some members, including Johnson’s budget leadership team of Council Members Danny Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, and Laurie Cumbo, defended the deal and the speaker, outlining the challenging circumstances and explaining that some members of color presented particularly nuanced views about police presence and reform.

Johnson repeatedly said that he had not struck a deal that went as far as he had wanted but took to heart that the agreed upon steps would lead to systemic reforms, particularly by transforming school safety from a punitive system to one that focuses on restorative justice. “These are real changes and I stand by what we were able to accomplish in those areas,” he said. “To everyone who is disappointed that we did not go farther, I want to be very honest and candid, I am disappointed as well.”

Both Johnson and de Blasio pointed to the importance of how school safety agents are transitioned into a changed command structure, citing the importance of new training and protocols, while activists called the move a sham that will continue to criminalize student behavior.

Johnson argued that there were many cuts in the mayor’s executive budget that should not have been proposed in the first place and cited Council victories in restoring funding for them, most notably the restoration of the program providing paid work to young people.

“These are programs that address injustice and inequity, these are programs that support the social safety net, and address systemic inequality,” he said.

 

As he pointed out,the Council was able to broker the restoration of funds for education and youth that the mayor had planned to cut. They include $100 million in fair student funding for schools as well as investments in school counselors, social workers, and school health programs. The budget also includes about $116 million to reinstate the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and the COMPASS, Beacon, and Cornerstone summer camp programs, all of which were on the chopping block in the mayor’s budget proposal. SYEP had become the symbol of the mayor’s entrenchment with the police department at the expense of young people.

The mayor had also proposed eliminating the CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has proved particularly helpful to lower-income public college students, but the Council fought to maintain it at $34.3 million. Among the other programs were investments in food security, public libraries, culture and arts funding, small businesses, senior services, housing, criminal justice, and services for domestic violence survivors and immigrants.

During the nearly three-hour long budget vote, Council members fell into three camps – those who supported the budget despite conceding it was far from perfect, those who felt the budget did not do justice to the widespread demands to make substantial cuts to the NYPD, and those who opposed any cuts to the NYPD budget. 

Members such as Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Robert Cornegy, all Democrats voted for the budget, noted their disagreement with certain aspects of the "Defund the NYPD" movement, particularly the calls for a wholesale elimination of school safety agents, 80% of whom are Black women. The budget, they insisted, is a first step in a broader school safety reform conversation and includes funding for crucial services for communities of color.

"The pandemic has underscored our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and put us in a position to either drive down a hill or off a cliff," said Ampry-Samuel. She pointed out that the budget will shift more than $500 million from NYPD capital funding to youth recreation centers and public housing, will fund SYEP, and return school safety to its "rightful place" under the DOE. "Driving off a cliff would've been laying off hard working New Yorkers, gutting SYEP, overpolicing stressed out communities while waiting for federal aid that may never come to save us. But we were able to save ourselves."

"This budget is not an end to our policy making as a council, it is not a final chapter," said Cornegy. "It's not the conclusion of the important discussions we're having around policing and caring for our shared committees."

Though other members, also Democrats, commended the Council's push back against the mayor's cuts, they felt strongly that the Council had failed to appropriately address the critical mass of voices calling for cuts to the NYPD. Among them were Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Carlina Rivera, Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards, who chairs the public safety committee. 

"Sadly the most historic part of this budget is how badly it manages to meet the moment," said Van Bramer. "The people have spoken through marches and rallies and by occupying City Hall. We must listen to the people we work for." 

Richards said his vote against the budget was not only about the $1 billion cuts and cost shifts but about the culture of policing in the city. "A $1 billion budget cut can't address systematic racism that runs rampant within the NYPD," he said. "Today, we must send a clear message that it's not okay to kettle peaceful protesters, that it's not okay to place Black and brown New Yorkers in a chokehold as they gasp for air. We must send a clear message that it's not okay to shoot unarmed black men like Sean Bell and Ramallah Graham. Tonight, we must send a clear message that no one is above the law, not even the NYPD."

The three Republicans on the Council and certain moderate Democrats such as Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr. expressed their support for the NYPD as they voted against the budget. "Friends, you're witnessing a moment where we are democratically electing to make the city of New York less safe, and I won't be a passive participant as we undo three decades of good work by our predecessors," said Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, citing a recent uptick in shootings. 

In explaining his vote, Council Member Holden, a Queens Democrat, said, "The political class of this city continues to disregard the people they serve. They continue to push policies that make the city and the constituents they are supposed to protect less safe."

Earlier in the day, dissatisfied with the developing compromise between the Council and the mayor, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams threatened at the last minute to use his charter authority “to prevent the budget from being executed during the final tax warrant process.” In a remote news conference on Tuesday morning, he pushed for a full hiring freeze at the police department and a solid commitment to a better school safety system.

Freddi Goldstein, a de Blasio spokesperson, said in response, “The NYPD budget is being cut by a historic $1 billion while maintaining safety on our streets. We’ve reached a fair deal that prioritizes our youth and communities most in need. That’s what New Yorkers need as they attempt to rebuild from a global pandemic that made our city the epicenter. The budget is effective as soon as Council passes it and is certified only by the mayor, comptroller, and city clerk.”

Williams may be able to hold up some tax revenue, but is likely to be challenged in court if he does attempt to do so.

In a statement after the budget passed, Williams expressed his disapproval. "In a moment when New Yorkers, with the entire nation, are demanding a reimagining of public safety, a reckoning with systemic injustices and inequities, the city falls far short with a budget that misses the moment of need," he said. The budget, he added, "perpetuates the idea that the NYPD is sacrosanct and the solution is always more police, and that we must accept this. This budget reiterates that message in a failure to commit on paper to a just transition for school safety. It is one that I cannot support and will not sign off on."

Comptroller Scott Stringer also criticized the mayor and City Council in a statement calling the supposed $1 billion cut a “bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform.” “Meaningful change in this moment won’t come by shifting police from one agency to another, and budget tricks won’t bring an end to the status quo. The movement in the streets won’t be suppressed by manipulated math,” he said.

Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, said in a statement, “New York City leaders may be breathing a sigh of relief for meeting the budget deadline after particularly arduous negotiations, but the fiscal crisis is far from over.” He said the budget is “precariously balanced” and does not address major budget gaps in the future. “New York City’s leaders did not make sufficient hard choices needed to put the City on a firmer fiscal foundation for the long term.”

The Council members who voted "yes" include Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan, Fernando Cabrera, Andrew Cohen, Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene, Barry Grodenchik, Andy King, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Rory Lancman, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Farah Louis, Alan Maisel, I. Daneek Miller, Francisco Moya, Bill Perkins, Keith Powers, Ydanis Rodriguez, Debi Rose, Rafael Salamanca Jr., Ritchie Torres, Mark Treyger and Peter Vallone.

The Council members who voted "no" include Inez Barron, Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, Chaim Deutsch, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Ben Kallos, Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Carlina Rivera, Helen Rosenthal, Eric Ulrich, Jimmy Van Bramer and Kalman Yeger.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated.

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De Blasio, City Council Agree on Contentious $88.2 Billion Crisis Budget with Focus on NYPD Shifts Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9553-city-council-negotiations-de-blasio-promises-1-billion-cut-nypd-operating-budget-500-million-capital https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9553-city-council-negotiations-de-blasio-promises-1-billion-cut-nypd-operating-budget-500-million-capital cojo del

The Mayor and Speaker at an NYPD press conference (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Update

As pressure mounted on the city to drastically reduce spending on policing in the budget that is due before Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council reached a tentative agreement on Monday to cut $1 billion from the NYPD and to reinvest funds in youth and social services. Nearly half the reduction, however, involves shfiting spending on school safety to the Department of Education rather than actual cuts. 

The agreement would reduce the NYPD's uniformed headcount by canceling an incoming class of 1,163 cadets. It also includes about $350 million in cuts to overtime spending and various other cuts to traffic enforcement, vehicle purchases, contracts, and more. All those cuts total about $512 million. Shifting school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD's purview together account for $483 million in the $1 billion deal.

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On Monday morning, de Blasio announced that he proposed a plan to the City Council that would reduce the NYPD’s annual operating budget by $1 billion while also shifting another $500 million in capital spending from the police department to other agencies.

A document obtained by Gotham Gazette showed that reduction would mostly be achieved by moving school safety out of the NYPD’s purview and will not be accompanied by a significant reduction in the department’s headcount. As the mayor stressed Monday, all plans and details remain tentative given that de Blasio and the City Council continue to negotiate the full terms of the new city budget. Council Speaker Corey Johnson has not indicated that he and de Blasio are in agreement on what de Blasio announced, and the document obtained by Gotham Gazette shows the two sides’ different proposals for NYPD budget shifts.

The push to “Defund the NYPD” has emerged as the central point of tension in this year’s budget negotiations. It is being led by activists protesting both police brutality after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd last month and the NYPD’s harsh crackdown against protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death, as well as the long history of racially disparate treatment by extremely well-resourced police departments.

Activists have called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget, a call that has been supported by the City Council and prominent elected officials including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed a four-year plan to reduce NYPD spending by $1.1 billion.

The Council proposed a $1 billion cut through various means – shifting responsibilities from the NYPD to other agencies, reducing the 36,000-officer headcount through attrition, and cutting overtime spending.

De Blasio, on Monday, said his administration presented a plan to the Council over the weekend that would “achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities, in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society.” 

“I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time, ensure that we keep our city safe,” he said. He promised that an additional half-billion dollars would be taken out of the capital budget for the police and used to build youth recreation centers and to invest in public housing at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

In April the mayor proposed an $89.3 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes about $5.9 billion in direct operational funds for the NYPD. However, the city spends closer to $11.5 billion in police-related costs in a year. Fringe benefits and pension contributions add another $5 billion to spending. Hundreds of millions are also spent through the capital budget – on police infrastructure – and to pay down debt incurred from those projects, an annual expense attributed to debt service not the police department. There is just over $400 million in NYPD capital spending planned for next fiscal year and just over $200 million in debt service expense spending budgeted.

[‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

The Council had been pushing for cuts to the NYPD even before the recent protests, noting that when the mayor cut his initial proposed budget (which was $95.3 billion in January) because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, the police department was largely untouched.  

A spreadsheet obtained from a Council source shows a gulf between how the Council and mayor have intended on achieving the $1 billion reduction.

The Council proposed cutting $747 million from the department’s expense budget and another $329 million in accompanying fringe costs, for a total of $1.076 billion. In the Council proposal reviewed by Gotham Gazette, the capital budget was not addressed.

The operating shift proposed included moving school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD, which would cut $374 million in direct funds and $159 million in fringe spending, for a total of $533 million reduction from the NYPD. It’s not clear if these expenses would simply be made up for at the amount under other agencies.

Reducing the uniformed headcount and lowering the “budgeted peak headcount” under the Council plan would together save another $176 million in operational funds and $169 million in fringe benefits, totalling $345 million. Savings in overtime (cutting spending, capping uniformed overtime and savings cancelled events) would amount to $140 million. The Council also proposed canceling an incoming cadet class, and cutting spending on contracts, vehicles and other miscellaneous expenses. 

The mayor’s proposal falls short of those demands in certain areas while proposing other changes that the Council did not put forward. He proposed $533 million in expense cuts, saving $177 million in fringe costs for a total of $731 million. It’s unclear how the mayor’s proposal will reach the $1 billion mark he announced Monday. 

The mayor’s school safety and crossing guard cuts total $506 million -- and the document also does not indicate if these costs are simply recreated under other departments. As he’s made clear a number of times, de Blasio is less willing to cut the department’s headcount, only proposing a $55 million cut, which will save another $26 million in fringe benefits, for a total of $81 million. His proposal would not reduce the peak budgeted headcount. And he proposed $50 million in overtime cuts (overtime spending routinely outpaces what is budgeted; the NYPD has spent as much as $728 million on overtime in the 2019 fiscal year after budgeting $600 million) and $13 million in cuts to contracts and other expenses. 

He did propose $76 million in savings through other measures the Council did not consider, including $14 million in reducing school safety overtime, a $42 million reduction in traffic enforcement revenue, and $5 million each from a delay in purchasing vehicles, cuts to traffic enforcement, a hiring freeze for certain civilian positions, and from shifting homeless engagement to the Department of Homeless Services.

The mayor also proposed a $516 million shift in capital funds originally intended for a property clerk facility and the new 116th precinct in southeast Queens. 

Reactions have been predictably split. Several Council Members, including Republican Joe Borelli and conservative Democrats Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr., have criticized the move to cut the NYPD’s budget, particularly noting that crime has been increasing in the last few months. 

Meanwhile, police reform advocates and some elected officials have largely been dissatisfied with what the mayor and Council have proposed so far as too little, warning that they are playing three-card monte with NYPD funds without addressing their core demands. 

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement's demands for at least $1 billion in direct cuts to the NYPD's almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, in a statement on Monday. “This is a lie and the movement isn't falling for de Blasio and Johnson's budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers - all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

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As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts Mon, 29 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9546-4-things-to-watch-as-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-finalize-new-budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9546-4-things-to-watch-as-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-finalize-new-budget city budget negotiations council de blasio johnson

The Mayor and City Council discuss the budget (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City’s next fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1, and there is no clear picture of the city’s fiscal future. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the city’s economy, gutting revenue streams and necessitating major cuts in planned city government spending, along with tapping into billions of dollars in reserves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council are engaged in intense negotiations as they seek to fill a large budget gap and try to prevent significant cuts to services and avoid mass layoffs while coming to a budget agreement by Tuesday night.

In his Executive Budget plan released in April, de Blasio had cut proposed spending by $6 billion from his January, pre-pandemic Preliminary Budget, from $95.3 billion to $89.3 billion. This was done through $2.7 billion in savings, largely reductions in planned city agency spending, and drawing $4 billion from reserves to attempt to minimize the city’s budget gap. But as tax revenue has continued to plummet that gap has continued to grow and the administration still has to find another $1 billion to balance the budget.

Yet the City Council was not in agreement with de Blasio’s Executive Budget and the two sides have had different priorities heading into final budget negotiations, most notably the goal set by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and dozens of the Council’s 51 members to slash the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion.

Meanwhile, hanging over the city budget picture have been two possible ways to close the immense gap that are out of the control of the mayor and Council: a federal “bailout,” which looks virtually impossible before the June 30 city deadline (thanks to Republicans in Washington), and permission from the state for the city to borrow billions of dollars to cover operating expenses, which appears unlikely to be granted in the next few days (thanks to Democrats in Albany).

Here are four things to watch in the city budget:

How will the city balance the budget?
Mayor de Blasio said at a press briefing on Friday that the city could have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees by October 1 if it cannot fill the $1 billion gap that remains.

Along with persistently but unsuccessfully lobbying for federal funds, de Blasio has been pushing the state Legislature to allow the city to borrow funds to cover those operational costs, a move that was prohibited after the practice in part pushed the city to the brink when it faced insolvency in the 1970s and the state came to the rescue. The resulting legislation after that fiscal crisis created an oversight body, the state Financial Control Board (FCB), and required that the city only spend as much revenue as it has on hand. 

The mayor said his borrowing plan has been amended and instead of seeking authorization to borrow $7 billion, the city will ask for $5 billion over two years. “We hope to borrow none, if we actually got the kind of federal stimulus support we deserve,” he said. “Maybe that will come, but we need the fallback of borrowing.” He said the process would be closely monitored by the FCB.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have been reluctant to approve any operational borrowing by the city but have yet to give definitive answers on the mayor’s latest proposal.

“Borrowing for operating expenses is a risky proposition, and it has to be done with caution, if at all,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Because now you’re really rolling the dice on future revenues. We went through this situation in the ′70s, where New York City was basically bankrupt and the state had to step in.”

“If there is a plan, we will review it,” said Caitlin Girouard, a Cuomo spokesperson, in an email on Friday. “That said, the existing financial control board is in the best position to review any plans for New York City to issue long-term debt to pay for current operating costs.”

On Saturday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, issued a statement indicating the Senate Democratic Conference is not there yet on supporting borrowing by the city.

“New York City is the economic engine for our nation and our state, and so it is a priority for the Senate that it remains economically strong and viable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Prudence requires the development of a plan not rushed through before action is actually necessary, especially when the possibility of additional federal aid remains unresolved. Mayor de Blasio has made it clear we have several months before drastic measures like layoffs would occur and other city leaders have sent mixed signals about the wisdom and efficacy of the current request. The Senate will work with our partners in Government including the Mayor, the City Comptroller, the City Council, the Assembly, and the Governor to help New York City. We are open to approving limited loan authorization but more work needs to be done to develop a consensus around a sound approach.”

In response, mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Waiting to see what will come from Washington has never been a viable option. It wasn't during the crisis, and it’s not in its aftermath. We need money to restart our city, keep New Yorkers working, and deliver the services they need most as they rebuild their lives. Now is the time to act. We’re disappointed the State Senate doesn’t see that.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said the Assembly will review any proposals.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson came out against the proposal to borrow $7 billion in May, instead pushing the administration to cut between 5 and 7% of city agency budgets. At the time, he said borrowing should be a “last resort” for the city. But at the Thursday briefing, Johnson said he wasn’t outright against it and that it may be required if federal stimulus funds aren’t delivered. “I am open to a responsible borrowing plan if we are at the same time focusing on meaningful cuts to city agencies without jeopardizing our social safety net,” he said. “We can’t just borrow to avoid looking hard at our budget and net agency spending. There are long-term implications to borrowing and if we do it, it must be done carefully and we can’t do it to supplement the entire city budget.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has supported a long-term borrowing plan, insisting that cuts to services and layoffs would affect the very communities that have already borne the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has cautioned against the burden that borrowing could place on the city, estimating that a $7 billion debt would need $11 billion in repayments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution,” he said in at the start of the month.  

The four Democratic candidates running for Comptroller in 2021 have taken somewhat divergent views. Council Member Helen Rosenthal has called for borrowing. Council Member Brad Lander, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember David Weprin, however, have warned against it.

[2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Different Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes]

De Blasio is urging labor unions to help find enough savings in labor contracts to help the city avoid the layoffs. “The layoffs would not begin until October 1, so, there's time to find the resources,” he said Friday on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. “But if I don't have borrowing and I don't have stimulus, I'm just out of options. We would still say to labor, help us find a different kind of savings, and we wouldn't do layoffs. But we need them to come to the table and work with us.”

Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, has recommended several “hard choices with difficult consequences” that the city could undertake to find almost $1.7 billion for the next fiscal year and reduce gaps down the line without layoffs or borrowing. It recommends cutting spending by $1.6 billion through improved efficiencies, renegotiating labor contracts, and cutting 9,000 employees from the 340,000-strong full-time workforce through attrition. They also called for a two-year property tax increase of 2%, selling city assets and freeing up another $750 million from the $1 billion general reserve fund.

“If the City’s leaders are willing to make the right and reasonable hard choices, they can balance the budget without asking future generations to pay for today’s bills or resorting to layoffs,” said CBC President Andrew Rein, in a statement.

Cuts to the NYPD
One of the major sticking points between the Council and the mayor is the push to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion budget (which doesn’t include billions in other annual NYPD-related expenses) and to fund youth and social services that otherwise face cuts under the mayor’s proposal. The Council has been pushing for that reallocation for weeks but pressure has only increased after the recent protests of police brutality and racism as activists have taken up a call to “Defund the NYPD” and have even camped out next to City Hall for days to press their demands.

The Council proposed cutting the $1 billion by taking certain responsibilities from the police department, including shifting school safety, which cost $327 million this year, to the Department of Education, cutting the department’s headcount through attrition and a hiring freeze, and limiting overtime costs.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a news conference on Thursday that the mayor’s executive budget proposal “is not a budget that the Council accepts, not a budget that would get the votes to pass,” citing cuts to education and the city’s social safety net while the NYPD emerged relatively unscathed. “This moment in our country and in our city calls for appropriately cutting funding for police and making sure that we are making structural changes to policing, re-envisioning what public safety looks like, and investing that money into communities of color and vulnerable communities. What was outlined in the executive budget doesn't do that.”

Though de Blasio has agreed to shift some funding away from the police department and said he is finding some agreement with the Council, he had said the $1 billion demand is too large. “We don't have a final dollar figure, but we're going to do something very, very substantial,” he said Friday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We'll know more in the next few days. Yes, money will come out of the NYPD. Yes, money will go to youth programs.”

The mayor has also pushed back and is reportedly considering cutting the Council’s discretionary funding, according to the New York Daily News.

But on Monday de Blasio announced that he had put forward a plan to shift $1 billion in NYPD operating budget funds away from the department and another $500 million in capital dollars. While a deal with the City Council has not been reached, the two sides appear closer to an agreement on "defunding" the NYPD by the $1 billion, though some advocates and elected officials say that too much of the cut is really just moving functions and employees from the police department to other city agencies, like school safety to the Department of Education. The details of the proposals put forth by the mayor and the Council show some overlap, but also some key distinctions, especially when it comes to NYPD headcount.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has pushed for a $1.1 billion reduction to the NYPD over four years, achieved through a reduced headcount by attrition, cutting overtime, and other miscellaneous costs. 

Summer Youth Employment and Other Programs
The City Council took particular issue with the mayor’s executive budget proposal, noting that it only reduced the NYPD budget by less than 1% while slashing the budget of the Department of Youth and Community Development by 32%. That cut meant that the city was zeroing out the $124-million Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides summer jobs to young people between the ages of 14 and 24. The city allocated funds for 75,000 jobs last year, many of which went to youth from low-income communities of color.

Though after major blowback de Blasio promised an alternative plan, details have yet to be released. De Blasio recently said the program will take shape soon, albeit late this year, and include a mix of outdoor and virtual opportunities.

[Amid Blowback Over Planned Suspension, De Blasio Administration Explores Alternative Summer Youth Employment Program]

Summer youth employment is one of many relatively smaller budget items, whether full or partial, that have been on the chopping block as de Blasio has sought to close the budget gap. But those very programs are often ones that Council members don't want to see cut, so the end result of how agency spending is trimmed will be full of details of great interest to many stakeholders inside and especially outside of government, including, for example, the many nonprofits that the city contracts with to perform vital services as well as CUNY, the city's public university system, and more.

Also in this larger category are city funding for individual schools, which supports not only teachers' salaries but guidance counselors, nurses, and more.

Capital Budget
The mayor’s executive budget also made major changes to the four-year, $67.2 billion capital plan, which funds long-term infrastructure investments around the city, from building and repairing schools to the city’s vehicle fleet and much more. Most capital projects were delayed to future years, when de Blasio will no longer be in office.

The capital budget is funded through long-term borrowing, but billions of dollars in debt service is paid each year through the city operating budget, so de Blasio’s plan is aimed at reducing some of those annual costs in the near-term.

Notably, the mayor cut significantly from planned upcoming investments in affordable housing, new schools, and the plan to build four new borough-based jail facilities to replace the Rikers Island jail complex which is slated for closure.

[Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch]

Budget watchdogs have emphasized that the city should continue funding routine maintenance and repair work, which are essential to the city’s quality of life and its eventual recovery. Others like City Council Member Brad Lander have urged the mayor to invest more funds in capital projects as a means to not only ensure the long term prosperity of the city but to also put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment.

Citizens Budget Commission, however, recommends reducing the five-year capital plan by a total of $6.7 billion – $2.4 billion in planned school construction and $4.3 billion in other expansion projects.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with news of de Blasio's Monday announcement about NYPD funding.

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4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Can Rebuild Through This Budget Crisis – Here’s How https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9550-new-york-city-can-rebuild-amid-budget-crisis-here-s-how https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9550-new-york-city-can-rebuild-amid-budget-crisis-here-s-how mdbd briefs cm

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


By the end of the month, just a few days from now, New York City will have to pass a balanced budget. With additional drops in revenue, looming state cuts to education and health-care funding, and the growing unlikelihood of federal support for states and localities, piecing together a budget that does not cut critical programs and services will be almost impossible. 

What does this mean for our future? How can we keep residents from giving up on New York City? How can we bring our local economy back?

As I’ve noted many times, there is no one silver bullet. To address its $10+ billion revenue shortfall, the city must assemble a package of solutions including productivity savings, cuts to services, new revenue opportunities, use of reserves, and borrowing. We need to be strategic and smart about how we close the gaps, while not further impacting our neighbors who have been most affected by the crisis. 

The City Council has already identified roughly $3 billion in cuts and savings. This includes eliminating NYPD training academy classes and other cuts to the police department’s now $6 billion budget, trimming the Department of Education’s bloated central office, along with program and contract cost re-estimates across all city agencies. The city also has roughly $4 billion in reserves that can be used in the current crisis.

One thing is painfully clear -- additional cuts beyond those identified above will do more harm than good. Large-scale cuts would force thousands of city employees and other essential workers paid through city contracts to lose their jobs and health-care benefits. Many of these are union jobs. The people we need to keep our city functioning would be forced onto unemployment, impacting every aspect of society, from local businesses to our tax base.

An all-out austerity budget is also untenable because we are in the midst of a massive public health crisis. To date, the city has spent over $3 billion to keep New Yorkers safe -- from ventilators and masks to feeding over 1 million people every day to remote learning services for our children. And as we look toward opening schools in September, we must spend more money to keep our schools free of the coronavirus. One positive has been that some of these outlays have been subsidized through federal relief money targeted to covid-related expenses.

But given the budget hole and the damage more agency cuts would do, we must talk about bringing in more revenue. I continue to fight for creative solutions, such as the reinstatement of the Securities Transfer Tax, which could generate billions for New York City and State.

Borrowing - likely $2 billion this year - also has to be part of the conversation. The concept is a third rail for some legislators because it harkens back to a time when the city borrowed money under very different circumstances. It’s important to note that the fiscal crisis of the 1970s was caused by several factors unique to that period -- decades of population loss; hemorrhaging of local employers (especially industrial businesses) that helped impoverish the population and intensify the need for social spending; and poor management of the city’s finances.

But here is where times have changed. Prior to this pandemic, the rating agencies were confident in New York City’s ability to maintain a balanced budget. In February 2020, the city was awarded an Aa1 rating by Moody’s -- the highest in recent history. By mid-March, however, the coronavirus pandemic was crushing local economies everywhere. Without jobs, people can’t pay rent or taxes. Without revenue, the city can’t supply basic services, and meet the growing demand for food, health care, and social services.

Borrowing comes with real costs of course. The circumstances and depth of the crisis in the 1970s forced the city to relinquish a certain amount of control over its budget in exchange for financial relief. Today’s crisis requires different guardrails and strong oversight, but there is no need for the Financial Control Board to be re-activated wholesale with a state takeover of the city’s budget.

And there are other risks. Every $1 billion borrowed will cost New York City $25 million annually, assuming we use the full loan term to pay back what is owed. The city budget will take on this debt. We have to weigh these costs against what is needed to get us back on our feet.

Finally, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, additional, targeted city spending makes sense at this moment. A recent analysis by the City Comptroller found that over 900,000 fewer New Yorkers were working in May than in February. Communities of color and young people under age 24 have been particularly hard hit.

Such job losses weaken our economy further. We should continue to invest in our residents and our recovery through robust job training programs (including the Summer Youth Employment Program), and limiting cuts to social service programs. Beyond this, an additional $2-3 billion of borrowing could be split between the purchase of homes heading to foreclosure (before predatory equity buyers swoop in), plus some targeted infrastructure and housing construction. These investments will save taxpayer dollars in the long-term.

Even in a devastating crisis we have choices. Let’s not be afraid to plan for a more vibrant, caring, sustainable city while we adjust to a new fiscal landscape.

***
City Council Member Helen Rosenthal represents parts of Manhattan. On Twitter @HelenRosenthal.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Can Rebuild Through This Budget Crisis – Here’s How Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
With Mass Evictions and Real Estate Speculation Looming, City and State Leaders Must Give Communities Opportunity to Own Their Own Land https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9540-mass-evictions-real-estate-speculation-protect-new-york-community-land-trusts https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9540-mass-evictions-real-estate-speculation-protect-new-york-community-land-trusts Gotham Gazette:

Council Member Rivera at a CLT rally (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York faces two new fronts in its housing crisis -- a wave of heightened speculation likely to destabilize communities and an onslaught of expected evictions as housing courts reopen.

As Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approach the June 30 deadline for voting on the fiscal year 2021 budget, communities of color hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic are not seeing anywhere near the requisite level of support to combat these crises.

Although the city faces real fiscal challenges, we must reject austerity measures that would disproportionately harm Black and brown communities already reeling from coronavirus, job losses, and so many other glaring inequities. Instead, we must ensure a budget that prioritizes neighborhood equity and lays groundwork for a just recovery -- starting with support for community land trusts (CLTs). 

Last year, the city provided groundbreaking funding to help launch a dozen CLTs in neighborhoods across the city -- a crucial step toward giving communities control over land and housing. The city should renew funding for the citywide CLT initiative to address the deepening housing crisis and continue to advance community-led development.

Rooted in civil rights struggles in the South, CLTs combine land ownership and management with community organizing. Community residents work together to collectively decide how to acquire and develop land, meet community needs and preserve affordability for future generations.

One of the most successful CLTs in the country is right here on the Lower East Side. For almost 30 years, the Cooper Square CLT has stewarded hundreds of units of permanently-affordable housing and dozens of commercial storefronts with below-market rents. The CLT and its affiliated Mutual Housing Association reach deep affordability through economies of scale, ensuring that rents remain affordable at levels that meet neighborhood needs.

Inspired by the success of Cooper Square and other CLTs across the country, a new generation of land trusts is emerging across the city -- from Tremont and Melrose to Jackson Heights, East New York, and beyond -- to take land and housing out of the speculative market, for good. Continued support is critical as CLTs move toward acquiring property for deeply and permanently affordable housing, retail and arts spaces, and other community needs. 

But we also need to give CLTs, along with mutual and resident-controlled housing, the tools they need to succeed.

That’s why we’re also fighting for passage of two pieces of legislation -- the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) in the City Council and the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) in the State Legislature. 

COPA would immediately give CLTs, non-profit affordable housing developers, and other organizations a right of first refusal whenever landlords decide to sell apartment buildings or property, ensuring they have time to secure and develop the funds necessary to make competitive offers on available property. TOPA would give the same right of first refusal to individual tenant organizations to purchase their own properties.

The need -- and opportunity -- for CLTs and community ownership initiatives has never been greater. As land and housing prices tumble in the wake of COVID-19, CLTs will be critical to guard against ramped-up real estate speculation, which wreaked havoc in Black and brown communities after the 2008 financial crash. Foreclosures rarely occur on CLT-owned land, as just one example of their stabilizing impact. With land trusts forming across the five boroughs, the time to redouble our commitment to this model is now. 

In his State of the City speech earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced his administration’s support for CLTs, including a commitment to add 3,000 units of housing on CLT land over two years. The mayor and the Council must deliver on this pledge.

The coronavirus has brutally exposed inequities in our city, and the insufficiency of current approaches to housing, health care, and so much more. A just recovery will require centering solutions developed by community residents to achieve true community safety and self-determination. New York City should make sure that CLTs and community-led development are part of the equation.

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City Council Member Carlina Rivera represents parts of Manhattan. Deyanira Del Río is Co-Director of New Economy Project. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera & @deydelrio.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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With Mass Evictions and Real Estate Speculation Looming, City and State Leaders Must Give Communities Opportunity to Own Their Own Land Fri, 26 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Teen Activists Pledge Protests If Mayor Doesn't Soon Announce Summer Youth Employment Program https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9535-teen-activists-pledge-protests-if-city-doesn-t-announce-summer-youth-employment-program https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9535-teen-activists-pledge-protests-if-city-doesn-t-announce-summer-youth-employment-program 3 activists pledge

Mayor de Blasio makes a summer youth employment announcement (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Teens Take Charge, a youth advocacy group, held a town hall Tuesday where its members demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio announce his decision regarding the Summer Youth Employment Program by Friday, June 26, or they will take to the streets to protest. 

“We’ve been screaming this message at the mayor for the past two-plus months,” said Kai-Lin Kwek-Rupp, one of the hosts of the town hall and leaders of Teens Take Charge, about the importance of SYEP and a clear plan from the mayor. “We need to make sure that we have constant pressure up until June 26, the last day of school, so that we really do get a commitment from him, and providers can start planning SYEP, and participants can start planning their summers.”

Amid the coronavirus shutdown and severe budget crunch, the mayor announced in April the cancellation of SYEP, which last summer offered 75,000 summer job placements at partner organizations for young adults across the city. City Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong wrote a letter to nonprofits citing the uncertainty of COVID-19 as the main reason for the cancellation, while the mayor also cited the city’s cratering tax revenue based on mandated economic closures.

Since the mayor’s announcement, advocacy groups like Teens Take Charge and a variety of elected officials and others have criticized the decision and organized to reinstate SYEP for this summer. Teens Take Charge has held forums, including one with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, written op-eds, interviewed with various media outlets, and pushed their supporters on social media to demand funding for SYEP. Along with the public advocate, more than half the City Council and over 100 SYEP providers have supported their cause, according to Teens Take Charge’s online tracker.

The significant blowback de Blasio received plus the eventually improving public health crisis led the mayor to say he was reconsidering SYEP and that his administration was in discussions about how to have a version of it in the age of social distancing and with many offices still mostly using a work-from-home model. 

“This is a particularly important initiative to people all over the city. The City Council has raised important ideas, proposals, ways of addressing how we revitalize the Summer Youth Employment Program in the context of this pandemic,” said de Blasio during a June 11 press conference. “That is an ongoing conversation with the City Council. That will be part of our budget decision making with the City Council over the next two weeks or so.”

With many arguing that some version of SYEP could take place and de Blasio saying it might be possible, Teens Take Charge also developed a proposal with HERE to HERE, ExpandED Schools, and dozens of SYEP providers on how to conduct a remote youth employment program. Their initiative, which they named the Youth Empowerment Summer, or YES, would combine public and private funding to provide 40,000 digital internships, with stipends ranging from $700 to $1,000, according to the proposal. They are looking to raise a total of almost $2.9 million in private investments and secure a little less than $50 million from the city in SYEP funding. The city projected to save about $124 million from cancelling SYEP, according to the executive budget de Blasio released in April.

With the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence, members of the City Council and Public Advocate Williams have called to move $1 billion from the police department’s $6 billion annual budget to youth and social services in the new city budget. SYEP has positively impacted Black communities, advocates and elected officials point out -- last year, almost half of SYEP participants identified as Black, according to DYCD’s numbers, which means more than 30,000 Black youth received work, wages, and growth opportunities.

De Blasio promised in early June to work with the City Council to move some funds from the NYPD towards youth and social services, but did not provide a target amount or any other specifics, instead saying he would be negotiating with the Council in crafting the new city budget due by July 1. 

During Tuesday’s town hall, Teens Take Charge invited former SYEP participants and organizations to speak on the importance of the program for youth development and organization capacity. The teens cited financial independence, skill-building, and career exploration as some of the benefits of the program. Nonprofits such as City Growers and Faith in New York said they base their summer programs on the inclusion of youth employees, and without them the programs cannot operate the same way.

Brooklyn State Senator Julie Salazar and City Council Member Carlos Menchacha, both Democrats, as is de Blasio, also attended the town hall to show their support.

“Budgets are a reflection of our priorities, it’s already been said, and it’s so true,” said Salazar. “Mayor de Blasio, show us that you care about young people. Show us that you care about their education, their future, and investing in them by continuing to fully fund SYEP.”

The town hall hosts, teens Carmen Lopez Villamil and Kwek-Rupp, saved their demand for the mayor until the end of the event. Lopez Villamil said if de Blasio fails to make an SYEP decision by Friday, Teens Take Charge will plan a protest near Gracie Mansion. She said this protest would most likely happen on Monday, June 29.

As of now, de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson have released the Neighborhood Opportunity Network Summer, or NeON Summer, as a summer youth employment alternative. The program offers six-week, paid learning opportunities to young people in certain low-income neighborhoods, youth on probation, and those who reside in the hardest-hit COVID-19 communities. However, Teens Take Charge noted that NeON Summer only serves a fraction of  New York City youth, with just 2,700 total slots.

The City Council also held a hearing Tuesday that included leadership of the Council’s Committee on Youth Services advocating for the reinstatement of SYEP. During her opening remarks, Council Member Deborah Rose, a Staten Island Democrat who serves as the chair of the committee, stressed the importance of the employment program and that the Council would keep putting pressure on de Blasio for New York City youth. 

“We know SYEP and other employment programs uplift impoverished youth who historically struggle to access the labor market,” said Rose. “Tragically these are the very youth whose communities have been ravaged the most by COVID-19, and whose futures we as a city must be investing in more than ever.

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by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette
@melmollyrose @GothamGazette

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Teen Activists Pledge Protests If Mayor Doesn't Soon Announce Summer Youth Employment Program Wed, 24 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Staving Off an Eviction Nightmare by Expanding New Yorkers' Right to Counsel https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9519-staving-off-eviction-nightmare-right-to-counsel-housing-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9519-staving-off-eviction-nightmare-right-to-counsel-housing-new-york eviction nightmare expanding

An eviction nightmare looms as housing court reopens (Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


A new threat is looming for the very Black and brown communities in New York City that have been hit the hardest by the dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism in policy: a massive wave of evictions. 

That’s because phase 1 of New York “reopening” didn’t just apply to construction and curbside retail. It also applied to housing courts. This could have disastrous consequences for tenants. Housing court personnel have already started reporting back to their workplaces. This Monday the courts are scheduled to begin hearing eviction proceedings again. We join tenants rights activists in urgently calling for this date to be pushed back. 

We also need to act now to prevent an avalanche of evictions no matter when housing court cases resume. We can do that by smartly leveraging the landmark law that established right to counsel in New York City.

Eviction cases that were suspended before the pandemic will be resumed, and there likely will be an onslaught of new cases -- the gubernatorial order pushing back evictions to August 20 does little to stop landlords from filing for new evictions.

The reopening of housing courts will also create a massive public health problem. New York City’s housing courts on a normal day are incredibly overcrowded, with tenants, lawyers, and staff crammed into hallways, waiting areas, and small courtrooms. Pre-covid, there were 2,000 people in the Bronx housing court alone, every day. Anything like a normal docket of cases will make it impossible to keep safe social distancing -- and we know that coronavirus spreads most easily in crowded, indoor settings.

There is a simple way to prevent both the massive wave of evictions and unsafe conditions in housing courts: only allow eviction cases to proceed if tenants have access to a lawyer.

In 2017 New York City enacted a landmark, first-in-the-nation law establishing right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. The law is being phased in zip code-by-zip code over five years, but has already dramatically increased the portion of tenants citywide with representation, from less than 5% to now approximately 30%. It’s proven to be spectacularly successful: 84% of tenants receiving legal representation have been able to remain in their homes. No surprise that cities around the nation are enacting policies based on New York City’s example.

Now we need to head off the looming eviction crisis by immediately taking right to counsel citywide -- to every zip code. We are drafting legislation now to put this into effect immediately.

Recognizing that we are in a financial crisis, this could be done in a revenue neutral way, by simply altering existing contracts with legal providers to spread their attorneys out over all zip codes. 

New York City’s housing courts have routinely adjourned cases so tenants can secure representation. In fact, after right to counsel was implemented, a Bronx judge even cancelled a judgment against a tenant because they weren’t provided a lawyer.  

So if tenants in all zip codes have a right to counsel, this will slow the daily volume of cases that can move forward in accordance with the number of right to counsel attorneys available -- in practice significantly slowing the pace of evictions.

The substantial reduction in the number of people in courts will also be a win for public health, since it will make room to implement social distancing policies that otherwise would be impossible.

Over the longer-term we need to expand the scope of New York City’s right to counsel law, including through legislation we have sponsored that would raise the income cutoff. This will be critical to achieving a fair recovery for our city in the years ahead.

But right now we need to take action fast to head off a crisis that would inflict additional pain on the low-income New Yorkers who have already suffered so much during the pandemic.

Right to counsel for tenants has already proven to bring more justice to housing court. Now it can be a powerful tool to ensure health, safety, and stability at this time of unprecedented crisis. 

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City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa L. Gibson represent parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, respectively, and co-sponsored the city’s landmark right to counsel law. On Twitter @MarkeLevineNYC and @Vanessalgibson.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Staving Off an Eviction Nightmare by Expanding New Yorkers' Right to Counsel Sun, 21 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000