As Poverty Increases, Budget Cuts Tatter the Safety Net
New figures confirm that poverty is increasing in New York City.
What is the city’s response? Budget cuts. Less than two weeks after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the city’s poverty rate jumped to 20.1 percent in calendar year 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget director demanded that all city agencies, including education and uniformed services, immediately plan to cut 2 percent for the remaining eight months of this fiscal year and 6 percent next year.
Yet a series of reports make it clear that even without the latest round of cuts, poverty agencies — facing rising need and falling resources — cannot maintain services. In fact, the Mayor’s Management Report for fiscal year 2011, released in mid-September and not generally known for highlighting bad news is full of bad news. A companion report from the mayor’s Office of Contract Services and a new Independent Budget Office fiscal brief on children’s services provide further evidence that the agencies can’t meet their stated goals.
But the mayor in his own press release for the management report ignored all that saying simply: “The data show that city agencies continue to provide the high-quality services that New Yorkers have rightly come to expect.”
The U.S. Census report in September not only noted the overall poverty rate rising to 20.1 percent in 2010, up from 18.7 percent in 2009, but that the rate for families with children headed by single mothers in New York City reached 41.1 percent last year, up from 38.8 percent in 2009. The mayor responded: “When the economy slows down, there are fewer jobs. … People pay less, tip less, whatever. That certainly filters all the way down.” But he added, “The city has one of the strongest safety nets in the country.”
The safety net in some agencies, though, looks torn.
The Administration for Children’s Services itself notes in the Mayor’s Management Report that there was a 20.2 percent decline in children in at-risk families receiving contract preventive services in 2011, compared to 2010 (down from 29,945 children served to 23,881). The decline, Children’s Services reports, was “due to continuing pressures on preventive services.”
The new fiscal brief from the Independent Budget Office paints a larger picture of what has happened at Children’s Services. Between 2000 and 2011 the agency shifted its emphasis from placing children in foster care to providing preventive services and therefore minimizing foster care placements. The shift ”contributed to a 54 percent reduction in the number of children in foster care and a 28 percent increase in the number of children receiving preventive services while remaining in their homes,” the report says.
Then came the recent budget cuts. “Because spending on preventive programs is discretionary, these services compete with other programs for scarce city dollars,” the budget office explained. This has led to a 25 percent reduction in the number of children receiving services over the last two years.
The cuts are counter-productive in fiscal terms. A family preventive services slot, according to Children’s Services, costs an average of $10,000. On the other hand, “the average cost of keeping a child in foster care averaged $49,000 in 2010,” the budget office notes.
The report goes on to explain the problems that providers face — and will face in the future — as budget pressures make funding uncertain. For instance, in early 2010, the mayor wanted to eliminate 3,000 preventive care slots. The City Council restored funding for 2,900 slots, but for only one year, fiscal 2011. Then in May 2011, the mayor continued funding for those 2,900 slots for the current 2012 fiscal year “and provided enhanced funding for 2012 and later years.” Yet, the brief continues, “significant risks” remain “as long as the majority of preventive services are considered discretionary by the state.”
“Budget constraints” have also caused cutbacks in another crucial part of the city’s safety net for children: daycare. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, total enrollment in subsidized childcare has dropped from 106,761 in 2007 to 98,643 in 2011, a 7.6 percent cut. In the most recent year, 2010 to 2011, 3,603 slots were lost. The elimination of childcare vouchers for 3,716 children between 2010 and 2011 was, according to Children’s Services, “driven primarily by a reduction in voucher resources.” In addition, staffing at the agency has dropped by 1,712 in the past three years to 6,213, a 21.6 percent reduction.
The strain appears within the offices of agencies dealing with low-income New Yorkers. Ten years into the Bloomberg administration, the Human Resources Administration blames delays in registering its $606 million human-services contract — only 62 percent were sent to the city comptroller on time, vs. 97 percent on time in 2008 — on the “implementation of multiple new automated tracking and management systems,” a lot of contracts with similar start dates and the “implementation of new business procedures.”
The Mayor’s Office of Contract Services’ annual Agency Procurement Indicators report for fiscal 2011, also released in September, shows human services contract delays extend to several other human services agencies. The Administration for Children’s Services, Office for the Aging, youth, homeless services and various health agencies “continue to face significant challenges in their efforts to register contracts in a timely manner, as they simultaneously confront major budgetary constraints in the human services sector.”
Average lateness in registering contracts in these agencies “increased to 41 days in fiscal 2011 compared to 27 days in fiscal 2010.” One result: Cash-flow loans from a city fund for human-service contractors who start or continue services in spite of not having a registered contract jumped from $29 million to $43 million in the past year.
Who Funds the Safety Net
The Mayor’s Management Report also shows that whatever strength the city’s safety net retains stems primarily not from the city, but from federal and state funding and mandates. For instance, the number of New Yorkers receiving city-administered cash assistance from the Human Resource Administration’s basic assistance program has actually fallen by 1.4 percent since 2007, from 360,700 to 355,600 in 2011.
At the same time, the enrollment numbers in the federal food stamp and Medicaid programs have grown dramatically. From 2007 to 2011 the number of New Yorkers receiving food stamps (funded by the federal government) has grown by 67 percent, from 1.1 million to 1.8 million. The city administers the program and has received an award for its role in expanding food stamp enrollments.
The number of New Yorkers enrolled in public health insurance programs, including Medicaid, (funded by city, state, and federal governments) has grown by 14 percent, from 2.56 million to 2.91 million.
Yet the Mayor’s Management Report shows that overall city, state and federal spending on social services has remained essentially flat for the past three years, ranging from $8.3 billion in 2009, $8.5 billion in 2010, to $8.1 billion in 2011 (numbers not adjusted for inflation).
Read the full post at Gotham Gazette.