Thousands more vacant positions eliminated in latest New York City budget cuts

“Without the significant and timely support we need from Washington, D.C., today’s budget will be only the beginning,” Mayor Eric Adams said of a plan that cuts 2,100 vacancies.

New York City Hall

New York City Hall Caroline Rubinstein-Willis/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ warning that the city’s next budget update would include “painful” cuts was borne out on Thursday, as the administration released a savings plan that will slow progress on curbside composting, delay an expansion of the city’s mental health emergency response division, and eliminate some of the city’s pre-K seats, just to name a few measures.

City agencies met the administration’s mandate to find 5% budget cuts in part by eliminating some of their vacant jobs. Across all agencies, this latest savings initiative includes the elimination of roughly 2,100 vacant city positions, according to City Hall. That adds to the thousands of vacant positions that have already been eliminated through savings initiatives in the past two years. It also comes as the city has implemented a hiring freeze that only allows agencies to hire for certain exempt positions – and even then, only on a “one out, one in” basis.

The elimination of vacant positions includes 262 uniformed positions at the Department of Sanitation, which is reducing litter basket service and some of its Get Stuff Clean programs. The Department of Buildings is eliminating 117 vacant positions while the Office of Technology and Innovation is losing 154 vacant spots, though there are no details provided for which titles are included.  

Some budget watchdogs say the vacancy reductions are a smart strategy. “The key is to manage the remaining vacancies well, putting them where needed and hiring critical positions,” Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein wrote in an email. As of September, there were nearly 21,000 vacant positions citywide, according to City Hall. 

But lawmakers and advocates critical of the administration’s budget cuts argue that the city has used too broad a sword in slashing vacant positions. Multiple city agencies are suffering from staffing shortages that have contributed to disruptions to city services, including the delivery of cash assistance benefits and placing formerly homeless New Yorkers in new housing. Prior to the hiring freeze, Adams and other lawmakers were hosting “hiring halls” to recruit more people to government jobs. 

“No city should be left to handle a national humanitarian crisis largely on its own.”

Citing the costs of providing services to tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, the administration announced earlier this year that agencies would have to find 5% cuts by the time the November update comes out – the first of three planned rounds of cuts over the next year. The city’s hiring freeze, announced at the same time, went into effect on Oct. 1.

“Migrant costs are going up, tax revenue growth is slowing, and COVID stimulus funding is drying up,” Adams said in a press release on Thursday. “No city should be left to handle a national humanitarian crisis largely on its own, and without the significant and timely support we need from Washington, D.C., today’s budget will be only the beginning.”

Details on the city’s November Financial Plan – a regular step of the city’s budget process, in which revenue and spending is assessed and modified as necessary – didn’t come out until Thursday afternoon, after Budget Director Jacques Jiha and staff conducted a “background briefing” with reporters to go over the update. The briefing was held virtually – a format that complicates reporters’ ability to ask follow up questions. Reporters were also instructed not to quote city officials directly. 

In addition to the 2,110 positions being eliminated, the savings plan also mentions savings from personnel reductions that are described as coming from the “hiring freeze.” Several agencies outlined personnel reductions in this way, including the Department of Sanitation, the Parks Department, the Fire Department, and the Law Department. The Law Department, for example, attributes the reduction of 56 vacant positions to the “hiring freeze.” 

The distinction between savings from a temporary hiring freeze and vacant positions permanently taken off the books is not clear in the budget documents. A City Hall spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked why some agencies included hiring freeze savings as personnel reductions in the budget document and others didn’t, when the hiring freeze applies citywide. 

City officials said that there are no layoffs in this savings plan, and that they’re not looking at layoffs in the future. The Fire Department’s savings plan does, however, include a reduction of 190 uniformed positions described as “Long Term Light Duty Staff Separation.” Asked how this staff separation doesn’t amount to layoffs, city officials said that they are putting the fire department in line with other uniformed agencies, where staff who are unable to fulfill job requirements and who don’t have an approved reasonable accommodation are terminated.

Programs Adams championed 

Adams’ own priorities, along with programs he’s pointed to as key accomplishments for his administration, will be affected. Gothamist reported earlier on Thursday that the planned expansion of curbside composting to the Bronx and Staten Island next year will be delayed six months. The Daily News also reported that hiring of new cops will be frozen. According to city officials, the next five classes of officers will be postponed, bringing the number of New York City Police Department officers below 30,000 by the end of fiscal year 2025. 

Summer Rising, New York City’s sprawling free summer school program, will also suffer cuts. Middle school students – who make up just under 30% of the program’s 110,000 seats – will no longer have programming on Fridays and hours will be reduced from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m. A number of vacant seats in the city’s universal pre-K program will also be eliminated. 

“The Administration’s approach of reducing budgets of all agencies broadly through additional cuts and a hiring freeze, along with inflicting cuts on our libraries, CUNY, and cultural institutions, is too blunt and not the prudent or sole choice,” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan said in a joint statement. “With clear evidence that city agencies are lagging in their ability to provide New Yorkers with necessary benefits and services at historic levels, the Administration must prioritize real exemptions from cuts to turn around city agency performance issues.” 

Rein from the Citizens Budget Commission said that the city needs help in paying for asylum-seeker services – the cost of which has widened preexisting budget gaps. “The budget gaps have been in plain sight and growing for years, signaling the clear need for a citywide look at program impact and efficiency to identify all opportunities to reduce costs without cutting critical services,” Rein said in a statement.

The 5% cuts to agencies don’t need City Council approval and will go into effect immediately.