Mayor de Blasio told radio listeners on Friday that media reports—and specifically those in City Limits—claiming his administration had proposed a cut of a food program were inaccurate.
“I would ask anyone—I would really strongly advise, Brian, anyone who is listening who actually wants to understand the budget to look at the budget and not to go through journalistic outlets to understand the budget,” the mayor told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.
Late last month City Limits published a story about what the Trump administration might mean for food policy in the city. In that story, reporter Elizabeth Michaelson Monaghan wrote:
For instance, in financial year 2017, the city budgeted a total of $128 million for food security programs, which include SNAP administration, meal delivery to seniors, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP). The latter is a major source of food for soup kitchens and food pantries; the financial year 2018 preliminary budget allocates it just over $8.2 million. (This constitutes a cut of almost $5 million since financial year 2017, and it comes at a time when 76 percent of local food pantries and soup kitchens need more food, according to the Food Bank for New York City.)
It’s not accurate … every time I hear someone claiming that we have a budget cut in our budget I’d like them to show us where it is because it doesn’t exist. There are times when something shows in a budget initially as a certain level of funding but then it’s still going to go through the executive budget process, which I’ll propose in about six weeks, and then a process with the City Council. So there are times when we know that there’s are going to be areas where we still have to work through with the City Council. It’s not a cut until the process is over and we say we want to cut something. There’s none of these areas where we are saying we want to take away what is there. We do have to go through a negotiation process. So I can understand why people might see it that way but I think if they look a little more carefully they will notice that uh things like food programs which I’ve been working on now for 15 years this administration has increased and kept steady.
The exchange begins at 29:10 in this clip:
Lehrer then asked specifically about the mention in City Limits. The mayor responded:
I would ask anyone I would really strongly advise, Brian, anyone who is listening who actually wants to understand the budget to look at the budget and not to go through journalistic outlets to understand the budget. The budget’s online. Anyone can look at it. There are times, again, where we say, ‘Here’s the baseline level that we’re going to go with and then there’s going to be a whole negotiation with the Council to decide priorities amongst the resources we have. We don’t actually get up and say, unless it;s the right thing to do, ‘We think this is a bad program, we’re going to cut it.’ If you look at the reality, year after year, we have consistently supported the emergency food programs, and when they’ve needed additional resources we’ve put it in. When there’s a cut is when we declare in the preliminary budget, ‘We think something is a bad idea, we’re not going to fund it.’ That is a situation that people can then debate. But you know this is not accurate to say when you look at three years running, when we have consistently funded the emergency food programs — all people have to do is a little sense of history and they’ll see that that allegation is not accurate.
However, the mayor’s preliminary budget does, in fact, propose such a reduction.
On page 1063 of the Departmental Estimates section of the mayor’s January presentation, the de Blasio administration sets out a budget of $8,241,597 for the 2018 fiscal year beginning in July. The program’s fiscal 2017 modified budget was $13,141,597. That’s $4,900,000 more than the mayor has proposed for the coming year.
The cut proposed for this year is actually a little larger because the preliminary budget also reduces estimated spending under emergency food contracts, another element of the EFAP, by $770,000. Overall, a program on which $17,131,748 is budgeted in the current year stands at $11,461,248 in the preliminary budget.
The amount in de Blasio’s preliminary budget is identical to what he has proposed for EFAP in each of his three previous preliminary and executive budgets. The final budget deal with the Council has always generated a higher funding level for the program: $12 million in FY2015, $14.3 million in FY2016 and $17.1 million in FY17.
It is true that budgets are the result of negotiation—some even call it a “budget dance”—but the preliminary and executive budgets, while just proposals, do represent the mayor’s request for funding. The mayor’s logic would suggest that the media shouldn’t talk about the budget until cuts and increases are finalized in the adopted budget — by which point, of course, the chance for citizens to react to the proposals would have passed.
***UPDATE***: City Hall replied to a request for comment late Friday. A spokesman emailed: “The $5 million you mention was a one-time add we made in partnership with the City Council in FY17 to address the need at the time. That money is still part of the FY17 budget and is not going anywhere. For FY18, we put in initial funding in January and are reassessing need and, depending on current need, will add additional funds during the Executive Budget and/or Adopted Budget. That is what the Mayor was referring to. He suggests that everyone look at the budget over the course of the year. If there is less funding at the end of FY18 than there was in the beginning, we cut the funding. Another option would be to compare the FY18 prelim and the FY17 prelim to see if there is a major change in funding. Ultimately, the point is that we are constantly assessing need and will add additional funding as deemed necessary as we continue through the FY18 budget process.”