With the recent federal stimulus sending a historic $12.6 billion in aid to New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is signaling that he will not push forward with previously proposed budget cuts. That will likely spare several child welfare programs whose funding was at risk, most notably a preventive services program designed to stabilize struggling families and keep children from entering foster care.
In his January budget proposal, the governor had moved to reduce the state’s reimbursement to counties for such programs by 5%, putting the burden on counties to make up the difference — or to simply cut services. The governor’s budget plan also proposed an $11 million cut from the foster care block grant and a 20% cut to a primary prevention program designed to support families before they come in contact with the child welfare system, known as Community Optional Prevention Services.
But that budget proposal was developed under the assumption that the state would receive less than half as much federal aid as it has since Joe Biden became president and the Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress.
Now, New York is receiving enough federal aid to cover the state’s budget gap through next spring, the governor’s office estimates. Other rosy projections are also in play this year: the most recent revenue forecast is $2.5 billion higher than previously anticipated, Budget Director Robert Mujica announced in a press call on Monday.
“As of right now, we have the resources necessary so that there would be no cuts in the governor’s budget,” Mujica said. He added that significant tax increases would not be needed to pay for the programs previously targeted for cuts — a solution that has been pushed by progressive lawmakers including newly elected Sen. Jabari Brisport (D), the head of the Senate Committee on Children and Families.
The governor’s message comes as he navigates a political firestorm brought on by multiple allegations of sexual harassment and an investigation into whether the executive branch tried to hide the true number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19.
Brisport and Assembly member Andrew Hevesi (D), who leads the Assembly’s children’s committee, had sharply criticized the embattled governor’s earlier proposals to reduce the state’s support for preventive services in a year that has left tens of thousands of families struggling with unemployment, poverty, food insecurity, and limited access to in-person school and child care.
In a February committee hearing, Brisport said cutting funding meant to stabilize the most vulnerable children would be like “a parent dipping out on child support payments,” while Hevesi recently called a proposed cut to primary preventive services “one of the dumbest policy proposals” he’d seen.
They also propose an additional $950,000 for kinship navigator services and $1.2 million for the Foster Youth College Success Initiative, which offers financial and personal support to young adults pursuing college degrees. Many low-income families would also benefit from the Legislature’s proposal to increase child care subsidies by capping a family’s co-pay at 10% of their income above the federal poverty level, half of the governor’s proposal of 20%.
On the policy front, the Legislature has opposed the governor’s proposal that all county agencies develop programs to offer services to families if child welfare workers determine their children are not in immediate danger and therefore a full child welfare investigation is not warranted. Expanding the approach, known as differential response, was one of the few policy proposals specific to child welfare in the governor’s budget, but it did not provide any additional funding for the initiative, prompting opposition from county social service departments. Parent advocates in New York City have also expressed concerns that the program coerces families into accepting greater surveillance by the child welfare system in order to avoid having their children removed.
The Legislature’s budget plans serve as starting points for negotiations with the governor; all parties must reach agreement on the final budget by Tuesday.
Despite the recent positive messaging from the governor’s office, state lawmakers are giving most of the credit for preventing cuts to the lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who at last sent New York the massive amount of aid it so desperately needs.
“Our congressional heroes have literally come to the rescue,” Hevesi said.