January 31, 2024
On Wednesday, January 31, 2024, Policy and Advocacy Associates Juan Diaz, Jenny Veloz, and Caitlyn Passaretti along with Associate Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy Alice Bufkin provided testimony to the New York State FY 2025 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Human Services. On behalf of CCC, this testimony responds to Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget with investment and legislative choices that will ensure every child is healthy, housed, educated, and safe. CCC recommends solutions to uplift households income, support housing stability, promote food security, invest in early childhood education and the human services workforce, and more.
Testimony of Alice Bufkin, Juan Diaz, Caitlyn Passaretti, and Jenny Veloz
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
Submitted to the New York State FY 2025 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing Human Services
January 31st, 2024
Since 1944, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York has served as an independent, multi- issue child advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring every New York child is healthy, housed, educated, and safe. 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 the wellbeing of New York’s children, families, and communities.
Thank you, Chair Weinstein and Chair Krueger, as well as Chair Hevesi, Chair Brisport, Chair Persaud, Chair Davila, and all the members of the Assembly Ways and Means, Senate Finance, Assembly and Senate Children and Families, and Assembly and Senate Social Services Committees for holding today’s Joint Hearing today and allowing us the opportunity to respond to Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget.
In 2023, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) released the “Child & Family Well-being in New York State” index, a comprehensive report that examines county-level data on economic security, housing stability, health care, education, youth, and families and communities. Findings from this report underscore the urgent need for the State to invest in solutions that lift incomes and combat poverty, increase housing stability and food security, strengthen child developmental and behavioral health outcomes, and support the overall wellbeing of youth, family and communities. Below, we outline the steps our State must take in the Fiscal Year 2024-25 Executive Budget and through legislation to ensure that every New York child in every family is healthy, housed, educated, and safe.
The pandemic has underscored how tax policy – Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – can be leveraged to lift families out of poverty. Multiple studies have revealed the positive impact that federal level tax credit reforms reduced child poverty nationwide.i These efforts have and can continue to inform state action.
In New York State, the inclusion of children under age 4 in the Empire State Child Credit in the SFY’24 budget was a critical step in increasing access to important tax benefits. New York State has the opportunity and responsibility to continue a path to eliminate child poverty statewide by supporting and funding the following tax policy proposals:
New York State is facing a housing affordability and shelter capacity crises that demands timely investments to secure housing and economic stability for families across the state. We applaud the Governor’s inclusion of $2.4 billion in the Executive Budget to support shelter-related costs for migrants in NYC in need of temporary assistance. Additionally, we support the inclusion of $500 million to develop 15,000 affordable housing units in state-owned properties. However, these investments do not go far enough to provide immediate solutions for families with children across the state that are struggling with the risk of eviction or residing in shelters. Therefore, we urge the State Government to pass and fund the following policy/program initiatives:
Food insecurity is on the rise in New York and across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecure households increased from 10.2% in 2021 to 12.8% in 2022. In households with children, 17.3% experienced food insecurity.iii In New York State, the rate of New Yorkers reporting food insufficiency increased to 10.8% in November 2022, from 7.3% in the summer of 2021. For households with children, the rate increased to 13.4%.iv New York State must invest in anti-hunger programs that will support families that are food insecure. We commend Governor Hochul for opting New York State into the federal summer EBT program, which will provide EBT food benefits to families with school-aged children during the summer. However, more must be done to combat food insecurity.
In recent years, New York has made historic investments and expanded income eligibility to increase access to child care, making child care newly affordable for tens of thousands of New York families. However, there are still many New York families who face barriers in access. Chief among these families are those where parents or caretakers work unpredictable or fluctuating hours. Currently parents are only allowed child care assistance for the exact hours they work or attend school, making child care unavailable to parents with inconsistent work schedules, part-time positions, or those who are a part of the growing gig economy.
Additionally, immigration status bars many otherwise eligible children from New York’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). The need to end this exclusion has become more urgent with more than 150,000 asylum seekers newly arriving in New York this past year. While New York leaders have been working hard to pave the way for asylum-seekers to be able to work, those who have children cannot work without child care. In last year’s Enacted Budget, New York for the first time funded a small pilot program to help the families of children who are currently excluded due to their immigration status to access child care. The number of families needing assistance has grown exponentially since last year.
Lastly, without a well sustained child care workforce, all the gains made in expanding access to child care will be in jeopardy and the state’s stated goal of moving toward universal child care will be an impossibility. No new funds were allocated in the Governor’s Executive Budget for child care workforce only one-time workforce retention and recruitment grants allocated as part of last year’s budget.
Child welfare preventive services are critical to maintain child safety and family stability, particularly in the face of the devastation the pandemic caused to families’ economic security and overall stability. In New York State, 35,972 families statewide, including 71,727 children, received Prevention Services in 2022. Prevention services have contributed to the reduction of children in out of home foster care placement from over 17,500 in 2016 to under 13,500 as of September 2023. Despite their importance in helping families meet their basic needs and avoid greater involvement in the child welfare system, prevention service provider agencies report crucial challenges with funding and staffing that limit their capacity to meet families’ needs.
In a study conducted by CCC and the Council for Family and Child Caring Agencies in 2020, it was evident that families demonstrated a more intense need basic services because of the pandemic, including the need for food and housing supports, internet access, and child care. Now in 2024, many of these same issues are prevalent, especially access pertaining to affordable housing, behavioral health care services, and child care. Families continue to struggle to meet basic needs and our child welfare system remains grossly underfunded. To support and uplift child wellbeing, and support family stability, the State must prioritize investing resources to services that support and strengthen families.
New York must effectively implement federal family first legislation and ensure counties have the resources needed to strengthen families, reduce out-of-home placements in foster care, and prioritize family-based placement and reunification.
In the face of the rhetoric that has dominated many recent news articles on crime in New York, we believe it is essential to make clear that youth crime is not rising in New York State. Youth arrests and index crimes have continued to decline over the past ten years.v The fear mongering around crime that is currently permeating many media outlets is destructive, dangerous, and untrue. At a time when New Yorkers are working to rebuild after the pandemic, facing the subsequent economic insecurity, and a current behavioral health crisis, we need investments in youth and communities. While other areas of the budget must address actions and investments that lift incomes, stabilize housing, and meet rising behavioral needs, public protection also requires public investment. It is essential that we fund a full continuum of youth justice services to rebuild our state and put youth and communities first.
New York families across the state face significant barriers accessing a wide range of health and human service supports due to severe and widespread workforce shortages. The nonprofit workforce is overwhelmed and underpaid, and counties across the state are struggling to meet the needs of children and families. Until our state addresses this central workforce crisis, families will continue to go without essential services and supports, and children will continue to suffer the long-term effects.
CCC appreciates the Governor’s inclusion of a COLA proposal in her last three budgets, particularly following years of budgets that neglected to address the workforce crisis at all. However, the depth of the need is enormous and requires sustained and increased investments. The Executive Budget’s proposed 1.5% COLA for health and human services under OPWDD, OMH, OASAS, OCFS, OTDA, and SOFA is insufficient to meet the depth of vacancies and workforce shortages facing the state. We join advocates from across the state in urging the Governor and elected leaders to support a 3.2% COLA in response to widespread staffing shortages and rising inflation that are driving the waitlist crisis for children and families.
We also believe the state must go farther than providing an essential annualized COLAs. The state 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.
The above recommendations will help ensure children, youth, families, and communities throughout the state thrive.
The recommendations in this testimony will build a better, safer, more equitable New York for children and families. We urge state leaders to implement these investments and policy changes in the FY25 State Budget. Thank you for your time and consideration.