Homeless and social services funding cuts reexamined by City Council

Amid a period of heightened tension between the mayor and the council, the final stretch of the budget process begins with a theatrical introduction.

New York City Council Members Justin Brannan and Diana Ayala lead a budget hearing on social services.

New York City Council Members Justin Brannan and Diana Ayala lead a budget hearing on social services. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

And the budget dance continues.

Two weeks after New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled his executive budget proposal, the City Council has begun a second round of oversight hearings on the $112 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2025, kicking things off Monday morning by delving into the Department of Social Services, which oversees the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Homeless Services. Hearings for various city agency budgets are slated to run through May 22 as the City Council and Adams administration looks to hammer out a final budget agreement before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

While Adams’ budget proposal partially restores some previously slashed funding to city services like cultural institutions, New York City Police Department classes and education programming, unpopular cuts to a bevy of other crucial services, including libraries and parks, remain. Key objectives for the City Council in the weeks ahead will likely include pushing back on the “unnecessarily blunt cuts,” as council leaders assert that the Adams administration is leaving more than $1 billion on the table. The City Council and the administration are often not on the same page at this point in the budget process, with City Hall tending to make more conservative revenue estimates. The discrepancies are all the more noticeable this year following several successive rounds of citywide budget cuts – known as “Programs to Eliminate the Gap,” or PEGs.

While the mayor is known for his theatrical entrances to press conferences, City Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan also showcased a dramatic flair ahead of the hearing. Minutes before the Monday morning hearing began, Brannan tweeted a video set to a dramatic soundtrack that showed him wordlessly entering City Hall, moving through the building, grabbing a Diet Coke, and entering the Council chamber (at which point the video shifted from black and white to color).

“OK let’s go. @NYCCouncil FY25 executive budget oversight hearings start now,” he wrote. “This is your city and your budget.”

While the video was an amusing, albeit tongue-in-cheek introduction to what tends to be a lengthy, bureaucratic process, the start of negotiations over the mayor’s executive budget plan does come amid heightened tensions between Adams and the City Council.

On Friday, City Hall’s chief counsel, Lisa Zornberg, demanded that Council Speaker Adrienne Adams open an ethics investigation into Council Member Lincoln Restler, a progressive from Brooklyn who she claimed used a recent hearing to “defame and harass city employees” – a request the speaker quickly denied.

That same day, Speaker Adams formally requested an independent probe into the New York City Police Department’s use of social media after some top police brass used their accounts to attack council members, journalists and others by name. Speaker Adams expressed concerns that the social media posts – the most recent ones target a frequent police critic, Council Member Tiffany Cabán – may be “construed as intimidating and dangerous,” could lead to “subsequent threats” and “veer into political activity or conflict with city laws and policies.” Mayor Adams has so far defended police officials’ “right to have an opinion.”

Council members and the Adams administration have also butted heads for several weeks over City Hall’s policy requiring elected officials to fill out an online engagement form to request meetings with agency leaders. The Adams administration’s recent personnel shake-ups aren’t going over easy either. Some council members have already threatened to block Adams’ anticipated nomination of Randy Mastro, the former federal prosecutor who served as a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, as corporation counsel.

Monday’s hearing on the Department of Social Services and Human Resources Administration budget stretched well into the afternoon as council members pressed agency leaders with questions about funding for the Subway Safety Plan, expanded access to rental vouchers, emergency food programs, cash assistance applications and much more.

Brannan and City Council Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala acknowledged that the executive budget proposal would bring funding for the CityFHEPS rental assistance program in line with historical spending for the program by adding $615 million next fiscal year and baseline $540 million in future years. City spending for CityFHEPS and related programs in fiscal year 2023 was $508 million, according to Molly Wasow Park, commissioner of the Department of Social Services.

While the added funding is “a big step in the right direction,” the administration has yet to provide sufficient funding to support the legislative package the City Council passed last year to significantly expand access to rental vouchers, Brannan said. The City Council and The Legal Aid Society sued the administration for its refusal to implement the laws earlier this year.

Pointing to the city’s policies restricting the number of days migrant families and migrant single adults can stay in city shelters, Ayala said the best way to decrease the overall costs of the city’s asylum-seeker response would be to invest in long-term housing solutions, such as CityFHEPS and “not by forcing an already vulnerable population onto the streets.”

Council members also questioned the administration’s plan to reduce funding for a critical food emergency program called Community Food Connection, which was revamped under Mayor Adams to fill the gap left by expired federal stimulus funding and the ongoing need for food assistance. The mayor’s budget proposal would cut the program from roughly $57 million this fiscal year to $25 million next fiscal year, and $21 million in the year after that. The City Council’s preliminary budget response urged the administration to fund the program at a minimum of $60 million each year.

“At a time of record high demand, we cannot abandon the hundreds of community-based providers who operate the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries, which feed our city’s most vulnerable populations,” Ayala said.