NYC Council Health Committee Chair Levine’s
Statement on the 2020 Budget
Amidst a pandemic, economic shock, and a long-overdue reckoning on racial justice, New York City now has a budget for the fiscal year that starts tomorrow.
Coronavirus blew a $9 billion hole in our city’s budget (so far), and the federal government has steadfastly refused to come to our rescue.
Despite these challenges, the City Council fought hard to protect the social programs that directly impact the most vulnerable New Yorkers. We succeeded in restoring summer programming, including SYEP, for 100,000 young people. We succeeded in avoiding teacher layoffs and added back 140 school social workers. We restored the vital CUNY ASAP initiative and bolstered food pantries.
This budget also allocates $2.4 billion to our fight against COVID-19. It avoids drastic cuts to health initiatives, especially those focused on the communities hit hardest by the pandemic.
We were able to preserve social services in all these areas in part because of cuts made to the NYPD. These cuts, however, were not as deep as I--and many of you--had hoped.
This budget will make a number of changes to the NYPD, including a reduction in headcount of about 1,100 officers, reduced funding for overtime, and an end to the NYPD’s role in homeless outreach and school safety. This is meaningful progress--but only a first step.
In recent days some of you have stated your strong opposition to one key component of the police budget cut plan: transferring school safety agents from NYPD to control by principals and the Dept. of Education. You have correctly pointed out that this does not represent true savings since the funds will now be spent by another agency.
I strongly believe we need a plan in place to reduce the role of aggressive enforcement in schools, whatever agency is overseeing this function. But I do not believe that it would be acceptable to layoff a workforce of 5,000 school safety agents, nearly all of whom are people of color--especially now in the midst of a pandemic. This is a perspective powerfully articulated by many of my African American colleagues in the Council.
If New York City had failed to enact a budget, it would have exposed us to the possibility of a take-over of our finances by the Financial Control Board, which would have undoubtedly instituted draconian cuts on the social programs which my constituents desperately need now. That is certainly an outcome I could not accept.
The desperately needed work of transforming policing in our city must continue. We need true accountability for police misconduct. We need to end disproportionately aggressive policing in communities of color. We need much stronger protections for peaceful protesters. Police can no longer be the first line of defense in mental health and addiction response--these should be treated as public health challenges. I am committed to relentlessly pursuing these fights in the days ahead.
I voted yes on this budget to preserve the vital social programs that low-income New Yorkers need now more than ever, to take a first step forward in the critical work of police reform, and to ensure we have the resources needed to carry on the long battle against COVID-19.
I am truly grateful to all of you whose input made this budget fairer at this time of unprecedented crisis for our city.