Fed bailout needed to stem layoffs: Bill 1

Mayor de Blasio said layoffs are a possibility in the absence of more than $7 billion in federal assistance.

Mayor de Blasio is calling on Washington to pony up billions of dollars in financial relief if the city is to avoid the layoffs and furloughs that he says will have to include uniformed and contracted personnel.

The mayor last month proposed a $89.3 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, $6 billion less than he first proposed in his preliminary budget.

But even that reduction is not likely to be enough, and still leaves a projected deficit of more than $5 billion for next year.

On May 6, in an early-morning interview with CNN’s John Berman, de Blasio said a federal bailout is necessary to avoid cuts.

“Right now what I’m staring down the barrel of, and cities and states all over the country, people are either acting on furloughs and layoffs or preparing for furloughs and layoffs of the exact people who have been the heroes in this crisis, who we should be celebrating and supporting — the first responders, the health care workers, the educators,” he said according to a transcript provided by the Mayor’s Office. “How are we going to support these people who we need if we don’t have any money?”

He told Berman that the present shortfall is $7.4 billion.

“It’s a real catch-22,” de Blasio said. “No stimulus, no recovery, no revenue. ... So to me, what the federal government needs to do is make cities and states whole.”

The mayor has made expanding the city workforce a hallmark of his administration, bringing the head count to more than 330,000. But at a press conference later last Wednesday morning, he doubled down on the likelihood of job cuts absent a massive financial commitment from the Trump administration and Congress.

“If we’re threatened with potential cuts from the state level because the state has run out of money, we’re going to have to do very, very painful things and every option will be on the table,” he said.

De Blasio’s press office referred back to the text of the press conference in response to a follow-up email from the Chronicle asking if the mayor will consider cutting positions within the city’s executive branch or administrative positions within the Department of Education, both of which have seen massive head count increases since he took office.

The press office also did not address questions about ongoing subsidies for the East River commuter ferry program, or the financial viability of the proposed Brooklyn Queens Connector streetcar project [see separate story in some editions or online at qchron.com].

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) struck a similar tone to that of the mayor’s address.

“The budget process has just begun.,” Johnson said in an email to the Chronicle. “COVID has wreaked havoc on the city’s finances, and we will be required to make difficult choices ahead. Our goal is to pass a budget that safeguards our social safety net and the public’s health. Additionally, the Council will work hard to make sure we protect jobs and the city’s workforce. It is incumbent on the Federal government to help New York City, which gives way more than it gets every year to Washington, in our hour of need. It makes sense for the city, and the country,” Johnson said.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, in an email to the Chronicle last week, also acknowledged that federal assistance is needed, but said the city has its own obligations.

“At a time when city workers are on the frontlines of the pandemic, the Mayor should not threaten their livelihoods in this way,” Stringer said. “From ballooning contracts to runaway spending without results, I have said repeatedly that agencies can find greater savings without harming our workers. And the federal government must assume its responsibilities and provide the relief we urgently need to continue to provide essential services.”

Stringer’s office said much the same thing Tuesday when it released its analysis of de Blasio’s proposed executive budget.

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, in her May 6 response to the executive budget proposal, called on de Blasio and the City Council to balance available funding against historical underfunding in the borough. Lawmakers must agree on a final budget by July 1.

“Queens children and elders have long been shortchanged,” Lee wrote in her cover letter. “Our schools, in fact, remain the most overcrowded and underfunded.” She wrote that against the backdrop of Queens being home to nearly one-third of the city’s student and senior populations, the borough traditionally has received the least amount of city funding per capita for both populations.

She also noted that Queens hospitals and housing were overburdened and overcrowded long before the pandemic, due to years of having to do and care for more with so much less.

“The pandemic has left few unscathed,” Lee wrote. “The road to recovery is a critical, delicate race against time that will demand greater unity, innovation and collaboration from us all. While the pain from substantial austerity measures ahead will have to understandably be shared. I urge you to consider the above historical disparities — relative to the rest of the city — when weighing available resources for our necessities here in Queens County ...”

Municipal unions began reacting immediately.

“New York City absolutely cannot balance its budget on the backs of its workers, especially police officers,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, the union representing NYPD officers. “Before this pandemic, crime was spiraling out of control. Now our entire social fabric is under tremendous strain, and police officers are already stretched thin trying to maintain order. If we cut cops, there will be chaos instead of a recovery.”

The Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents members of the FDNY, also was cool to the idea on its Twitter page.

“It’s upsetting that @NYCMayor would even suggest cuts and layoffs to frontline workers ... we are not political pawns.”

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), who last week told the Chronicle that cuts to or the elimination of social programs such as the Summer Youth Employment Program need to be reconsidered, told the New York Post on May 6 that the mayor’s Budget Office should instead look for savings in programs like NYC Thrive, a mental heath project helmed by city first lady Chirlane McCray and which has come under immense fire for alleged lack of accountability and results.

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