Governor Pataki’s plan to block grant funding for social services would cut approximately $150 million from the city’s budget, according to a recent analysis by the Office of Management and Budget. The Flexible Fund for Family Services (FFFS) would combine the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) surplus funding for a slew of local social service programs into a lump sum and, for the first time, offer local authorities the power to decide how the money is used.
The block grant would encompass child care, child welfare, employment services, summer youth employment, domestic violence and anti-homelessness programs funded with TANF dollars.
Counties’ funds would be allocated by per capita wealth rather than the number of poor, as in the past. The formula would benefit counties such as Westchester and Nassau, while New York City, where 2 million people live beneath the poverty line, would lose $150 million. That’s because the city’s per capita wealth figures are inflated by its high concentration of super rich inhabitants.
The governor has touted the program as a way to give more flexibility to local governments so the money can be spent on the most needed services. But advocates have a different view. “TANF surplus money is shrinking year after year. They want to leave the problem of what programs to cut to the counties so they don’t have to take responsibility,” said Trudi Renwick, senior economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group focused on budget issues.
The fate of the proposal will be decided by the budget process, which the state has vowed to finish by its April 1 deadline for the first time in 20 years. The Assembly’s budget openly opposed the block grant while the Senate’s supports it. Representatives from the two houses began meeting last Wednesday to hash out a compromise on the budget, including the block grant issue.
But the history of state budget negotiations worries advocates. “In the past several years, usually what the governor proposed is what the governor got,” said Bich Ha Pham, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State. Pham is co-organizing a lobby action in Albany against the governor’s proposal on March 29.
The Office of Management and Budget said it was too early to comment on which programs would be most likely to be affected, but here is how Pataki suggests the city could absorb the $150 million cut:
Child care: $108 million, the most severe reduction among all the programs. The city estimates that 22,000 day care slots could be cut.
Employment services for welfare recipients: $26 million, including skills training, English as a Second Language, GED classes, job placement, and substance abuse treatment. The programs currently serve 80,000 public assistance recipients through 19 nonprofit organizations.
Employment eligibility and assessment services: $12 million, including homeless assessment centers, job centers, etc.
State contracts: $13 million, including the city’s Supplemental Homeless Intervention Program, Educational Development for Gainful Employment, and Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Services.