Reject City Agency Cuts so Families Can Access the Benefits and Care They Need


Testimony & Public Comments

March 11, 2024

On Monday, March 11, Policy and Advocacy Associates Juan Diaz, Caitlyn Passaretti, and Jenny Veloz along with Associate Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy Alice Bufkin provided testimony to the New York City Council on the FY25 Preliminary Budget Oversight Hearing General Welfare. Om behalf of CCC, the testimony provides detailed solutions to improve the delivery of essential services for NYC families and children through investments in housing, child welfare, youth justice, food security, and human services. These solutions would have a permanent and long-term effect on the health of New York’s children, families, and communities.

Read the testimony below.

 


 

Testimony of Alice Bufkin, Juan Diaz, Caitlyn Passaretti, and Jenny Veloz
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
Submitted to the New York City Council on the FY25 Preliminary Budget Oversight Hearing General Welfare
March 11, 2024

Since 1944, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York has served as an independent, multi-issue child advocacy organization. CCC does not accept or receive public resources, provide direct services, or represent a sector or workforce; our priority is improving outcomes for children and families through civic engagement, research, and advocacy. We document the facts, engage and mobilize New Yorkers, and advocate for solutions to ensure that every New York child is healthy, housed, educated, and safe.

We would like to thank Chair Ayala and all the members of the City Council General Welfare Committee for holding today’s important hearing on the Mayor’s FY25 Preliminary Budget and on solutions to improve the delivery of essential services for NYC families and children.

Though we are relieved that the Mayor has decided to reverse budget cuts to several city agencies, the FY25 Preliminary Budget includes a host of harmful cuts and funding reductions that will impact the fundamental ability of families to access the care they need. We urge city leaders to prioritize investments today that will have a permanent and long-term effect on the health of New York’s children, families and communities.

Family Homelessness

CCC is a steering committee member of the Family Homeless Coalition (FHC), a coalition comprised of formerly homeless mothers and 20 organizations representing service and housing providers and children’s advocacy organizations united to end family homelessness.

The City continues to face a housing and homelessness crisis. There are ten thousand pending housing court cases unsolved, the shelter system is at full capacity, and City Marshalls conducted over 12,000 evictions in 2022.i New Yorkers are experiencing serious delays in essential housing and public benefits service applications, as well as severe vacancy rates at social services organizations and severe delays in payments to CBOs. Our city needs a budget that expedites shelter exits to permanent housing and creates shelter space by addressing the disruption of essential public benefits and preventing eviction.

CCC urges the City leaders to take the following actions in the Executive Budget: Prevent Family Homelessness:

  • Implement the CityFHEPS expansion, which would significantly remove administrative and eligibility barriers and would expedite access to housing support for families in the community and in shelters.
  • Improve Public Benefit access and retention by address HRA staffing shortage, removing red tape, and implementing technology solutions to ensure CityFHEPS payments and renewals and public benefits are secured and are not disrupted in transition to permanent housing.
  • Prioritize Access to Homebase Services by providing funding support to CBOs who administer homeless prevention programs to keep up with ever-increasing demand.
  • Resolve contracting and budget process issues that delay payment to Legal Services and homeless services organizations that are critical in preventing homelessness, in processing immigration paperwork, and in housing and delivering services to people living on our streets and in shelters.

Promote Wellbeing in Shelter

  • Baseline funding for shelter-based Community Coordinators to help children get to school every day and access needed educational support. We applaud the inclusion of funding in last year’s budget, which illustrates the Administration’s commitment to the school success of children in
  • Implement a meaningful COLA for homeless services staff, so that these essential programs have the necessary staffing to help expedite shelter exits and promote overall children’s wellbeing.
  • Resolve contracting issues and payment delays to community-based shelter and homeless service providers that impede workforce and service stability.

Improve Timely Access to Affordable Housing

  • As outlined in the Housing our Neighbors Blueprint, allow all families experiencing homelessness to access HPD Homeless Set asides, not merely those in DHS shelter.
  • The efforts underway to reduce the application process to fill vacant affordable units are promising steps; to build on this work, we urge the Administration to invest in streamlining the approval process by reducing repetitive paperwork and hiring the necessary staff.
  • The Administration should open city-funded supportive housing, NYC 15/15, to domestic violence survivors and their children by removing the ‘chronicity requirement’ or including survivors as an eligible population.
  • The Administration should prioritize meeting the intention of Local Law 19 of 2020 that established set aside targets for units within affordable housing to meet the needs of homeless

Child Welfare

New York families are still rebuilding from the intersecting harms of the pandemic, including the impact of severe economic disruption. Above all, families need investments and services to meet their unique needs and enable them to support their families. In a data project conducted by CCC and the Council on Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), we found that families reported a serious increased need for necessities during the pandemic, such as housing, child care, food, and the internet. These basic needs should be met and should not result in a child welfare investigation, which is why CCC is calling on the city to continue to shore up primary prevention investments to ensure all families’ basic needs are met.

CCC is concerned to see cuts in prevention services in both the November Plan and in the Preliminary Budget. Prevention services are for families with an open child welfare case. Therefore, we are calling for the City Council to restore the $2.3 million cut in FY25, $3.1 million cut in FY26, $3.8 million cut in FY27, and $4.6 million cut in FY28 for prevention services, so families involved in the child welfare system can receive high-quality, dignified, and supportive services.

Additionally, the Department of Education is mandated to ensure that students in foster care receive transportation to and from their school. Unfortunately, the DOE has yet to comply. Being in foster care is disruptive enough for a young person; the DOE must do everything in its power to ensure that students in foster care are supported and, at the bare minimum, can get to school. During the 2019-20 school year, one in five NYC students had to change schools upon their initial placement in foster care. This disruption of students’ lives and education is unacceptable and unjust. We urge the City Council to ensure that the budget includes $5 million for the DOE to provide bus service or other door-to-door transportation to the relatively small number of students in foster care who need it to maintain school stability.

Youth Justice

To promote community safety and wellbeing we must invest in community services and resources. The November Plan and the Preliminary Budget include cuts to probation programs that have proven to be successful in supporting re-entry and connecting young people to mentorship and services. Failing to provide robust reentry services or supportive probation programs will harm our youth and is counterintuitive to building safe communities.

Youth across the City have made clear that investing in youth services is the best pathway to achieving community wellbeing. In their 2023 Youth Agenda, youth leaders from the CCC Youth Leadership Course, CUNY’s Intergenerational Change Initiative (ICI) and YVote named Economic Mobility for youth a top priority and urged the expansion of SYEP and the ability of all youth to access year-round employment.i We need creative, non-carceral solutions to violence, and we urge the Mayor and the City Council to utilize the city budget to invest heavily in community programming, parks, housing, youth sports, employment, and behavioral health.

CCC therefore recommends the following investments to create safe and supportive communities:

  • Treat gun violence as a public health crisis by investing in transformative community programs, including expanding investment in Cure Violence, credible messenger programs, youth engagement programs and other community-rooted programs that employ a public health approach to community safety
  • Restore the $17 million cut from nonprofit programs provided in NYC jails
  • Restore the $1.6 million cut to the Arches program, a transformative mentorship program to support 16–24-year-olds, from both the November plan and Preliminary budget
  • Restore $2.6 million cut from the Next Steps program from the November plan
  • Redirect the funding from school policing into opportunities for young people in schools and communities
  • Restore the $22 million cut for New York Public Libraries
  • Invest $5.6 million to fund an additional 100 DYCD RHY beds; 60 beds for Runaway and Homeless Youth (16-20yo) and 40 beds for Homeless Young Adults (21-24yo)
  • Restore the $1.6 million to maintain funding for the 16 Peer Navigator positions in the DYCD- RHY System
  • Close Rikers and ensure the City remains on track with the closure plan

We also demand an end to the Quality-of-Life Violations policing initiative that began around March 2022 from the Mayor’s office and NYPD. To be clear, this is a new iteration of broken windows policing, a policy that we know does not work and further criminalizes Black and Brown New Yorkers. We are already seeing the impact of this policy with increasing arrests and detainment, specifically and disproportionately targeting Black New Yorkers. This policy should be immediately halted.

This is a pivotal moment to shift how we approach community safety, and we must commit to resourcing systemically neglected communities and building support networks.

Food Security

New York leaders must continue to address the widespread hunger crisis that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the expiration of federal hunger programs, children and families continue to struggle to afford healthy meals and groceries. As the City’s poverty rate increased to 23%, the demand for SNAP is also on the rise.ii The backlog of SNAP applications has resulted in households waiting more than 30 days for their benefits. While we commend the administration for addressing the backlog of pending SNAP cases, we know that more needs to be done. With food and grocery prices at all-time highs, low-income households continue to struggle with not only food, but also housing, childcare, transportation, and utilities. It is imperative that New York continue to invest and fund resources that are vital to the health and well-being of children and families.

Therefore, CCC recommends the following:

  • Increase and baseline HRA’s budget to support community-based organizations in benefits outreach and streamline benefits applications.
  • Increase and baseline funding to $60 million for Community Food Connections to address rising costs, accommodate the influx of asylum seekers and migrants, and include fresh food.
  • Invest an additional $150 million in the Chancellor’s Capital budget for funding for the continued redesign of middle and high school cafeterias.
  • Restore $60 million to the DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition

Human Services

New York families across the city face significant barriers accessing a wide range of health and human service supports due to severe and widespread workforce shortages. Until we address this central workforce crisis, families will continue to go without essential services and supports, and children will continue to suffer the long-term effects.

We remain deeply concerned about the impact of staff vacancies across city agencies that process essential public benefits and that contract with a wide array of health and human service providers serving community members across the city. We are particularly concerned about staff vacancies in DSS and DHS, which we know has resulted in families unable to access food stamps, cash assistance, or housing assistance on time. Families are at risk of losing their homes, facing longer lengths of stay in shelter, and experiencing hunger because city agencies are understaffed and under-resourced. The city’s focus should be on filling vacancies rather than eliminating them; the benefits of filling vacancies are multiple. Public benefits bring stability and supports to households in need, and enable households to spend in local communities on food, transportation, and housing, resulting in an economic benefit for the city at large. Similarly, timely non-profit payments are essential to ensure non-profit businesses can meet community needs, to ensure we are equitably compensating the providers who have been the backbone of our human services system, and to stably employ a workforce that earns and spends locally.

With respect to the nonprofit human service workforce, CCC joins advocates and providers in urging the City to increase support for the human services workforce. We believe annual cost of living (COLA) increases must be made permanent to address the workforce crisis facing human service providers, including mental health and substance use services. Without an inclusive COLA, nonprofits struggle to retain their staff and provide key services – and workers will continue serving our city on poverty-level wages. Furthermore, the city must establish a wage floor for the health and human service workforce, tied to the true cost of living, to lift incomes in the sector and ensure that no worker is paid poverty level wages.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 


i The 2023 NYC Youth Agenda. 2023. Retrieved from:  2023 NYC Youth Agenda
ii “Is New York City Back? Not for Everyone.” New York Times 3/5/2024: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/05/nyregion/nyc-economy-comeback.html

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