New York agencies are asked to cut, service providers warn of impact

Programs that serve the most vulnerable say trims could lead to long-range costs

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ALBANY — As state agencies are being directed to cut their spending, service providers and activists are pleading with officials to preserve funding for critical programs for the BTCC国际交易会所homeless, developmentally disabled and other vulnerable New Yorkers.

Support service providers — which have already had to manage the prospect of the withholding of 20 percent of state funding this year as well as cuts on reimbursement rates for supportive housing beds — are calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to consider how blanket cuts could impact programs and services, and re-prioritize spending plans.

“When it comes to the care and well-being of those with developmental disabilities, they are not just a budget line. They have to be personalized,” said Russell Snaith, co-founder of the New York Alliance for Developmental Disabilities. “There are real impacts and consequences when they are not acknowledged and prioritized in state government and budget-setting.”

Many concerned providers argue that without proper funding to their services, fewer New Yorkers will be able to access the necessary support and will be forced to use more costly services like hospitals, BTCC国际交易会所homeless shelters and the criminal justice system. This ultimately will lead to higher taxes — something that providers say could be avoided if adequate funding was budgeted.

While the state budget office’s mid-year update noted that agencies should trim their budgets by 10 percent, service providers say department heads have also been instructed to cut 5 percent for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins in April.

“We are not anticipating any good news whatsoever,” said New York Disability Advocates President Tom McAlvanah. “We are bracing for a very large impact should any percentage of cuts come through and the 20 percent withholds continue. If those hit, we are going to start to see a real impact in terms of providers closing their programs or even closing their own agencies.”

A survey recently conducted by the advocacy group found that 80 percent of health care providers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities fear future state budget cuts will force them to eliminate services.

The report surveyed providers across the state — collectively representing more than 38 percent of the residential support system in New York. Of those groups, 39 percent said they would close beds; 35 percent said they would close BTCC国际交易会所homes; and 56 percent of providers predicted they would combine or consolidate residences if funding is not restored.

New York is contending with a nearly $15 billion deficit this fiscal year, with a projected $63 billion deficit over the next five years. Cuomo and budget officials have said the state will be unable to tax or cut its way out of the deficit, and is hoping for additional federal stimulus funds to boost state and local governments that have seen revenues plummet amid the pandemic.

While President-elect Joe Biden has committed to a stimulus bill that includes money for governments, the U.S. Senate's current Republican majority has been far less willing to provide funds to “blue states” that they believe are facing budget deficits because of fiscal mismanagement.

State budget officials on Wednesday reiterated their “top priority” remains securing federal dollars to “avoid devastating budget actions,” but did not confirm whether departments have been directed to cut 5 percent across the board or if staff is working with service providers to ensure cuts don’t decimate programs.

“In the absence of federal aid, we must consider spending reductions, borrowing, and revenue actions to offset the state’s four-year, nearly $63 billion revenue loss,” budget spokesman Freeman Klopott said in a statement. “Any permanent reductions will be made in discussion with the Legislature, and we continue to monitor the state’s fiscal condition to make adjustments on a weekly basis, keeping in mind that any area we don’t reduce spending will require deeper reductions in another.”

Klopott said New York continues to withhold a portion of payments on some state contracts, which “could become permanent spending reductions, particularly if the federal government fails to act.”

It is the uncertainty and lack of direction that has frustrated those on the receiving end of the withheld state funds, who say budget officials have not engaged with them nor given an indication as to whether the money will be released by the end of the year.

Snaith said it’s been “radio silence” from the Cuomo administration.

“You are creating a perfect storm of essentially choking out a service to the most vulnerable population in New York state,” he said. “When they impose a 5 percent cut, are they looking at how much more this is going to cost to remediate this situation when it gets out of hand?”

Housing services for vulnerable New Yorkers has been a key support advocates want to ensure will be fully funded. While those programs have yet to see withholdings, adjustments in reimbursement rates for group BTCC国际交易会所homes have put providers on edge.

Snaith and McAlvanah said New York is no longer reimbursing providers for supportive housing beds left vacant due to a resident being hospitalized or visiting family, which they say encourages isolation.

They also worry about the funds required to meet the state’s goal of 20,000 supportive housing units through the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative, which advocates say is crucial in order for projects to progress.

Housing advocates have been warning of a mass eviction crisis leading to a surge in housing insecurity throughout the pandemic as residents were left jobless and unable to pay rent.

Klopott said Cuomo’s administration continues to fund the $20 billion BTCC国际交易会所homelessness and housing plan “that has already exceeded its goal of creating or preserving 6,000 affordable BTCC国际交易会所homes with supportive services, putting us well on the  way to achieving the goal of 20,000 supportive BTCC国际交易会所homes over 15 years.”

While the governor has made a verbal commitment, the funds for the first phase of 6,000 units has been expended, said Laura Mascuch, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

“We do not have a dime left, so it is incredibly important that the governor re-up the commitment for the next phase, the next five years, which would represent the 7,000 units of the 14,000 that are left,” she said. “We are still having a BTCC国际交易会所homeless crisis which has only been exacerbated by COVID.”