by Fisayo Okare
New York State and City elected officials, activists and community-based grassroots organizations gathered in City Hall Park on Tuesday to denounce Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed 15% budget cut to all city agencies.
The rally follows an announcement from Adams last week of his plan to reduce costs, which may affect every city service. This includes a $2.1 billion cut from the Department of Education’s budget; a $1.4 billion cut from the Department of Social Services; an $800 million cut from the Department of Homeless Services; a $300 million cut from the FDNY; and a $200 million cut from City hospitals. It’s all part of an attempt to cut a $12 billion budget deficit.
Elected officials are rejecting cuts, saying it will affect city services: “When we hear 15% budget cuts, what we know that means in communities like mine, means …our schools are disinvested in… our parks have less and less resources…our constituents who need SNAP benefits have to run their luck in order to get a person on the other side of that phone,” Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa said as she kicked off the rally. Other council members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus were also present and gave remarks.
Councilmember Lincoln Restler said that many New Yorkers already cannot access city services, including federally funded food stamps. Some people with housing vouchers are placed in apartments but can’t actually get into their homes because the city does not have the staff to help them, he said.
“The mayor says immigrants are going to destroy our city. No, hell no, these policies will destroy our city,” Restler said.
The mayor’s comments and announcements regarding the recent humanitarian migrant crisis in New York have increasingly become ominous. At a town hall-style meeting earlier this month, Adams remarked “this issue will destroy New York City.”
“Every service in this city is going to be impacted,” Adams said of the migrant crisis.” I said it last year when I had 15,000 [migrants], and I’m telling you now with 110,000,” Adams said, adding he “didn’t see an end” to it.
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams opposed the mayor’s statements at the rally, saying “we have been in crises before that we didn’t see the end to. Like the pandemic, like the recession. And we always lead with hope for the future. We have seen an influx of migrants of this size previously. And we have made it.”
A crisis of policies: Melissa Johnson, New York Organizer with Black Alliance for Just Immigration, criticized the proposed budget cuts at the rally. She also called out the city’s 60-day shelter rule, which dictates that if adult migrants do not have housing outside of a shelter after 60 days, they must re-apply for shelter.
The 60-day shelter limit imposed on single migrant men expires Saturday, September 23rd. Now, adults who reapply for shelter will have just 30 days to stay, the city announced this week. The administration is also considering giving families with children a 60-day deadline to leave shelters too.
“What is happening is as there is investment in policing and prisons, asylum seekers, as they are coming in, are losing out on public benefits that all vulnerable folks should have access to,” Johnson said. “They are being put in a vulnerable position by being kicked out of shelters, put on the street and put into the police-to-deportation pipeline.”
Other rally attendees who have been at the forefront of amplifying issues newly arrived migrants are facing in the city said the mayoral administration is using the increase in asylum seekers as an excuse to make budget cuts. Joshua Goldfein, a staff attorney at the Homeless Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society said that a little over a year ago, Legal Aid started meeting with the city about the increase in new arrivals coming into the shelter system. And even at that time, the city and the mayor were talking about making budget cuts right away.
“It was the next opportunity for them to pursue an agenda that they’ve always had,” Goldfein said.
Elected officials say there are other avenues for funding the city as opposed to budget cuts: “We do not need cuts. We need support. We need supply. We need to make this better, not worse,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. Both Epstein and Councilmember Chi Ossé proposed solutions, including stronger taxes on the ultra-wealthy.
An analysis published on Documented on Tuesday indicates that there is no disputing the fact that the city’s expenditure has increased as a result of higher spending on public assistance, social services, and shelter for newly arrived asylum seekers.
But the city has also had a record high cash balance on its books this year, which was aided by robust tax collections, Documented’s Pooja Sarkar wrote in her findings. By the end of fiscal year 2023, the cash balance stood at $12.39 billion, compared to $8.16 billion in fiscal year 2022.
(Note to readers: Multimedia journalist Oluwafisayo “Fisayo” Okare is a full time Newsletter Writer at Documented, an immigration-focused publication in New York.)