Demand for cash assistance grants for low-income New Yorkers is growing rapidly, acting Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park testified before the New York City Council on Monday. “Relative to pre-COVID, our cash assistance caseload is up 43%,” Wasow Park said in a City Council budget hearing. “The drop off of income supports that came with COVID has led to really rapid increases in applications.”
But as that demand has grown, the Human Resources Administration – which administers the cash assistance program and food stamp benefits – is still dealing with frustratingly long backlogs in the processing of those benefits. As of May 2, Wasow Park said, there were 39,232 overdue cash assistance cases and 1,908 overdue Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cases, including applications and recertifications. (Both the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Homeless Services fall under the Department of Social Services.)
On Monday, at the first of roughly two dozen City Council hearings on Mayor Eric Adams’ executive budget for fiscal year 2024, the council’s Democratic leaders reiterated their argument that the delivery of essential city services like food and cash assistance is suffering because of staffing shortages at city agencies. They have argued that citywide budget cuts implemented by Mayor Adams’ administration, which have included reducing vacant positions, will make it more difficult to administer these kinds of programs effectively. They have also warned that savings achieved through budget re-estimates will threaten essential services administered by other departments, such as meal deliveries to seniors.
In opening remarks at Monday’s hearing, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams pointed to delays in administering programs including SNAP and others managed by the Human Resources Administration. “This has left far too many in our city without access to the support they rely on to avoid food insecurity and homelessness,” Speaker Adams said. “It is clear that we are far beyond the notion that reductions to the agency's budget and operational support have not affected services. New Yorkers are experiencing the negative impacts of delayed services and we must stem this reality with the right investments in the budget.”
The Human Resources Administration budget for fiscal year 2024 under the executive budget is $11 billion – $300 million more than what Mayor Adams’ administration first proposed in the preliminary budget, but about $300 million less than the adopted budget for the current fiscal year 2023, Speaker Adams noted.
According to the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, which spans the first four months of fiscal year 2023, timely processing of SNAP benefits dropped to 42% in that period, down from 71% over that same period in fiscal year 2022. In explaining that decline, the report pointed to “continued unprecedented increases in applications, the end of federal waivers that had delayed recertifications and reduced staffing levels due to attrition and retirements.”
On Monday, Wasow Park said that the department is making progress on the timeliness metrics – though she did not detail by how much – and said that the department is working on staffing up. “It is a full-court press to onboard staff. We're investing in technology. We're working very closely with the state on additional regulatory waivers,” Wasow Park said. “It is an enormous priority for the agency.”
But the Human Resources Administration is still facing a significant shortage of staffers. The current headcount at the Human Resources Administration is 10,334, Wasow Park said, though the agency was budgeted for a headcount of 12,486 this year. In the upcoming fiscal year 2024, the budgeted headcount would go down to 12,132 under the executive budget.