Wondering how human services fared in the final City budget? The results are mixed; while the outcome could have been worse, it also could have been much, much better.
Given how bad a year it is for local government budgets, it’s good to see that some significant cuts were avoided. Child care for instance, was originally going to be cut by 91 million, but most of that will be restored. Still, some important programs have been eliminated or reduced. Family literacy, for example, was not restored, and funds for rental assistance have been eliminated.
The deal reached by Speaker Quinn and the unions (particularly UFT) helped human services because the Council had more funds available to make restorations; only $50 million of “Council” money had to be used for education and fire department restorations. Without that deal, cuts to human services would certainly have been much deeper. Few recognize this connection; had this deal not gone through, the Council would have prioritized restorations to avoid teacher layoffs and fire house closures, leaving few dollars to restore human service programs.
While this is relatively good news, it is nevertheless disappointing that the very real and viable revenue options that many were fighting for as part of the “On May 12” Coalition and that nearly 20 Council Members publicly supported were not truly considered. All the cuts would have been avoided if these measures had been taken. Even just one or two of the revenue options would have meant fewer cuts. Instead, the unions had to step up while the banking industry was once again let off the hook – despite the fact that they caused this crisis.
It’s important to remember that human services have sustained cuts since 2008 when this fiscal downturn began, so this year’s cuts are compounded on top of previous reductions. Government funding for programs is slowly being whittled away, private dollars are diminishing, need is up, and the cost of doing business is growing. This is very bad news for nonprofits working on the frontlines to meet overwhelming need, and even worse news for the vulnerable populations that rely on human services.
And, before we celebrate over human services restorations, let’s not forget that we’ll have to gear up for the same fight next year. Most of the restorations are not being made to the City’s baseline budget so there’s no long-term commitment to funding them. Restorations made by the Council are for one year only. This means that next year human service advocates will have to beg once again for these programs to be restored.
So, in the end, it could have been worse, but it could have been a whole lot better. Had the unions not stepped up, nearly all of the proposed human services cuts (close to $300 million) would have been made. On the other hand, had those best positioned to contribute and that caused this crisis in the first place–big banks–been required to do their part and pay their fair share, very few cuts would have been needed, and many average people would have been spared from the difficulties and hardships they will now face.
Contributed by Allison Sesso of the Human Services Council of NYC