The day after Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City speech, in which he called for City Council members to cut at least 20 percent from their budgets, the Working Families Party and a few handfuls of those Council members suggested he pick deeper pockets–in Albany and Washington.
“The mayor’s speech was noticeably lacking in details on how to affect the budget crisis,” Bob Masters, co-chair of the Working Families Party, said of Bloomberg’s address given last Wednesday.
Standing with Masters, 15 council members called on the mayor to dip into the city’s unspent pool of funds from federal workforce and welfare programs. According to their “Common Sense Economic Stimulus Plan,” the city has access to at least $769 million in unspent state and federal money that Bloomberg could unleash on the Big Apple if he’s willing to use his muscle with the state and feds.
Part of this pot of gold is just sitting there waiting for Bloomberg. Under the Workforce Investment Act, a 1998 federal law to create job training programs, Congress allocated close to $300 million to the city. Right now, over $200 million of that is freely accessible to the city, since the Giuliani administration failed to spend it. If the city doesn’t use it by June, the feds will ask for about $100 million back.
The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Act also gave a windfall to most of the states in the union. But while other states invested their surplus welfare money in child care and housing, Governor George Pataki has so far held on to much of New York’s money, saving $943 million for a rainy day, though his recent budget proposal does call for putting $345 million of that into college aid through the Tuition Assistance Program.
The rest of the “Common Sense” plan calls for putting cash right into the pockets of some of the poorest New Yorkers by helping them enroll in well-established federal programs. About 108,000 city residents are currently eligible for state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits but have not applied. Investing in public education and outreach, the plan says, could bring as much as $158 million in disposable income to the city. Getting another 365,000 New Yorkers on food stamps, also underutilized, could bring the city $389 million. All that while spending, they hope, no more than 1 percent of the funds brought in to promote the programs.
Calls to the mayor’s office were not returned by press time. He has said he will outline his budget in detail on February 13.
But the council members do have at least one important budget player on their side: David Weprin, chair of the council’s finance committee. While noting that these funds might be more helpful next year than for this upcoming budget, he said, “In the end it will be less people who will need the aid of state and city.” The other key budget player, Speaker Gifford Miller, sat out the press conference last week, but has attended “Common Sense” planning meetings and expressed interest at least in the concept, said Weprin.
After all, joked freshman Councilmember James Sanders of Queens, “Since when has any New Yorker worthy of the name left money on the table?”