Gibson Cohen
Councilmembers Gibson and Cohen.

The devastation of the coronavirus pandemic is everywhere and virtually no one and no sector of the economy has been left untouched. The city is projecting a staggering$7.4 billion loss in tax revenue over this fiscal year and the next. Thousands of New York City businesses have shuttered, and statewide unemployment claims haveskyrocketed. The proposed $89.3 billion FY 2021 Executive Expense Budget includes more than $2 billion in spending cuts as the city absorbs approximately$800 million in cuts and cost shifts passed on from the State. The budget process is never easy, not even in the best of times, but in the coming weeks, we must deliver an inclusive and equitable budget that expands the social safety net, protects vital youth programs, and makes difficult decisions involving cuts as New York stares down one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. We take on these decisions with our eyes wide open and understand there will be cuts – deep painful cuts that will have a severe impact on millions of New Yorkers.

If this crisis is the greatest test of the strength of our system and all of its components, we are seeing theuneven impact of the pandemic falling on those in greatest need and least able to access resources. It has forced an accounting of the response from every level of government and exposed deep inequities. In the parts of the Bronx experiencing some of the highest rates of poverty and health disparities even before the COVID-19 crisis, the official response and relief efforts have been found wanting in its precision and understanding of local needs.

As we look towards recovery and rebuilding, the City Council is clearly going to prioritize basic needs, including food, shelter, health, and reviving the local economy. But if we are serious about a budget that does not leave those in greatest need behind, we must center nonprofits in our planning. These diverse organizations form the backbone of our neighborhoods and the city’s vibrant cultural life. Their employees are 34 percent of the workforce in the Bronx, supporting senior centers, food pantries, shelters, early care and education centers, after-school facilities, music, health and cultural institutions that are dealing with the immediate and long-term consequences of this pandemic. They serve the communities who are bearing the brunt of the crisis, providing critical services including employing tens of thousands of young adults during the summer season and providing workforce training when the immediate need for youth and family programming is more urgent than ever before.

Nonprofits now find themselves on the frontlines of the economic recovery process, even as they struggle to ensure their own survival. While budget cuts are inherently contentious, the loss of government funding for nonprofits operating on razor-thin margins during a pandemic means staff reductions, the elimination of entire programs, and permanent closures. In charting the path forward, it is important that we do not eviscerate the not-for-profit sector to the point that these service providers are put out of business. If we do not ensure that organizations like the Bronx Children’s Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, Bedford Park Senior Center, Bronx Council on the Arts, and Bronx Opera House survive, they will not be here for us in a post COVID-19 world when we will rely on these organizations to provide opportunities to stabilize and lift our communities out of a tragic period. The loss of these service providers will compound the city’s growing unemployment crisis and the pain felt by vulnerable populations depending on them. We will not be able to recoup these losses.

Together, these organizations will be vital partners in devising a plan for a thoughtful recovery. We have a tremendous resource in the newly established advisory council for nonprofits and social services. The city and the advisory council can take a tiered approach to spending cuts, prioritizing equitable funding for underserved communities and targeting relief to the sectors in greatest need. We’re able to assign figures and numbers to many parts of the budget process – projections, revenues, and expenditures – that add up neatly for a balanced budget. The lasting human impact is immeasurable and cannot be fully understood.

We cannot overcome this crisis by balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. We must protect and support these organizations so the critical staff and programs which our residents rely on can stay in place through the crisis and emerge from the crisis when the need for human services, educational, and cultural programming will surely escalate.

Andrew Cohen and Vanessa Gibson, both Democrats, are members of the New York City Council representing districts 11 and 16, respectively, in the Bronx.