New York City’s newly named official in charge of health and human services comes with professional experience that neither of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent appointees for the position has had: deep roots in child welfare issues.
Melanie Hartzog steps into the role of deputy mayor for health and human services, which de Blasio once called one of the most difficult in the city — and that was before the novel coronavirus — as his third appointee for the position in the past two years.
Hartzog is a familiar face around City Hall, where she has served as budget director of the nation’s largest municipal budget. Lately, she’s been contending with the $9 billion hole the pandemic has blown in the city budget.
Knowing that wrenching budget cuts are inevitably in the works as a resurgent coronavirus in the city portends perhaps worse to come, Hartzog’s move to deputy mayor for health and human services — essentially, a cabinet post — in some ways represents a return to her child welfare roots.
Hartzog previously ran the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. Before that, she was executive director of the influential nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund’s New York chapter. Her professional career also includes serving as the family services coordinator for a previous deputy mayor for health and human services and deputy commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services.
“Ms. Hartzog is incredibly well-positioned to work successfully across the sector with colleagues inside and outside of government,” said Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.
Hartzog is now tasked with helping guide the city’s human services and public health response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Part of that job includes ensuring that the city’s social services continue to support New Yorkers, including the homeless, foster youth and young people involved in the juvenile justice system.
Hartzog’s successor as city management and budget director is Jacques Jiha, who will try to lead the city out of the fiscal crisis.
Hartzog will oversee about 11 agencies in her new position. Daunting as the task ahead may be, Hartzog struck a positive note in a statement released Monday as she thanked de Blasio for picking her to serve the most at-risk among New York City’s 8.6 million residents.
“From fighting to improve the lives of low-income children to balancing the city’s budgets while funding Universal Pre-K, I have spent my entire career uplifting our city’s most vulnerable,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of public health in our city’s recovery, including a robust social services sector.”