With hundreds of child care providers already shuttered and child welfare programs on the brink, leaders from New York’s state Assembly and the human services sector are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to release billions in unspent federal coronavirus aid to nonprofits battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers and statewide nonprofits convened online Wednesday morning to warn of the looming closures of potentially thousands of groups serving foster youth, homeless families, people with disabilities and new parents, among others, if the state does not quickly push out its remaining $2 billion from the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.
The state received a total of $5.1 billion through the fund, which can be used for a “broad range” of “actions taken to respond to the public health emergency,” including “economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions,” according to federal Department of the Treasury guidance.
“The governor has got to get his act together on this issue and save lives,” said Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, a Democrat and chair of the Health Committee, at the online convening.
His Assembly colleague from Queens, Democrat Andrew Hevesi, who chairs the Social Services Committee, warned that the most vulnerable families getting slammed by the pandemic could potentially cost the state even more in the future.
“My constructive criticism of the governor is we need him and his team to engage in longer-term thinking, because what he is doing now — particularly withholding these [federal] funds — is going to cost us a lot of money starting next year,” said Hevesi, emphasizing the food and housing insecurity that has hit Black and Latino communities disproportionately due to COVID-19. “It is bad budgeting, it is shortsighted. And respectfully, Governor, please, we need you to do long-term thinking.”
The nonprofit sector research organization Candid estimates that 1,829 nonprofits could close statewide in the next nine to 36 months, depending on many variables. In New York City the damage has already been felt: Roughly a third of food banks in New York City had reportedly closed by late April, with breadlines stretching for blocks and blocks. And since April, 724 child care providers have closed permanently.
Hevesi and Gottfried were joined by other Democratic Assembly committee chairs including Linda Rosenthal as well as Sen. David Carlucci, on a call hosted by the nonprofit trade group the Human Services Council.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget said that lawmakers and advocates should instead be “joining the fight” for a new federal aid package to help with the state’s $14.5 billion revenue shortfall, instead of pursuing leftover CARES funding that can “only be used for narrowly defined COVID-related costs.”
“The Federal government has failed to provide New York and other states impacted by COVID-19 with assistance to offset any of the resulting revenue loss and we agree with the legislature’s frustration with the Federal government’s failure to act,” Freeman Klopott said. “The State will spend every dollar on eligible costs related to the pandemic response, including personal protective equipment, the MTA, testing statewide, and contact tracing.”*
It was the second such press conference in less than a month, following up on a Sept. 8 letter with 185 signatories sent to Cuomo.
“We recognize the financial crisis impacting the state, but we need funding to flow to these essential workers providing critical services to the children, families, and adults across the capital region,” said Bill Gettman, who runs the large upstate human services nonprofit Northern Rivers, which works with justice-involved youth and foster youth, among other groups. “We’ve seen $1 million in delayed payments from New York state, both contracts and rates, and yet our creditors aren’t saying to us, ‘Don’t worry about paying our bill’. I still have to pay for insurance, I have to feed our kids, I have to pay our foster care.”
One Albany-area provider of home visiting support to new parents said she’s just laid off five workers, most of whom were single mothers and women of color. For months, those workers had been the only source of emergency food, diapers, wipes and bus passes to get COVID-19 tests for the state’s most vulnerable parents.
“It means significantly less parents that we can serve. We may have to make a decision about not serving rural communities,” said Laurie McBain, a program manager for nonprofit Healthy Families of Rensselaer County.
*CORRECTION: October 22, 2020. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration declined to respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the state’s Division of the Budget did respond, but the email landed in a reporter’s “spam” folder.