Youth programs will shrink, families will lose childcare subsidies, and housing programs for runaway and homeless teenagers will disappear. Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the New York State legislature have given themselves plenty of credit for passing an on-time budget that closes a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes. The biggest spending cuts are in education and health care, but there are substantial changes in funding for other programs that serve the state's low-income children, youth and families. Read on to see how key services will fare in Fiscal Year 2011-12.
Shrinking the system: The legislature approved Governor Cuomo's plan to downsize the juvenile justice system by nearly 400 beds. They balked at his proposal to permanently repeal the requirement that state officials give the legislature 12-months notice before closing underused juvenile jails.
The notification requirement has traditionally been defended by guards' unions and upstate legislators whose constituencies depend on jails and prisons for jobs. This go-round, they reached a temporary compromise that shortens the waiting period to 60 days. As of April 2012, the one-year rule will be back in effect.
The same deal applies to adult prisons, as well as mental health facilities operated by the state.
Detention dollars: Historically, the state has reimbursed cities and counties for half the cost of running juvenile detention centers, where young people are held while they wait for a court hearing or transfer to longer-term, state-run correctional facilities.
In his February Executive Budget proposal, Governor Cuomo anticipated capping detention funding at $30 million, saying he wanted to save money while also giving localities the incentive to send young people to community-based programs instead of holding them in detention centers. The Bloomberg administration and legislators pushed back, arguing that local governments need both time and money to ramp up their alternative programs.
Instead, the enacted budget raises the cap to $76 million. The state will allow local governments to choose whether they'll spend this money on detention, which the state will continue to reimburse at 49 percent (up to the cap), or divert some of it to alternative-to-detention programs, for which the state will pay a 62 percent share. Another $8.2 million will be disbursed to cities and counties exclusively for community alternatives.
While the state plan aligns, in many ways, with New York City's five-year-and-running effort to divert kids out of detention centers and into community programs, Mayor Bloomberg's preliminary budget projects no decrease in spending for city detention centers next year, according to an analysis by the Independent Budget Office. Nor does the city expect to see a new benefit from the state's alternative-to-detention funding, since its programs are already reimbursed by the state at a 62 percent rate.
Improving state lockups: Despite the plan to cut beds and close facilities, the state budget designates $38 million over the next two fiscal years to increase staffing and improve mental health, education and other services in state-run juvenile jails. These improvements come as a response to serious criticisms and a federal lawsuit over poor conditions and brutal treatment in the state's juvenile lockups, but they mean that the city, which has drastically cut the number of kids it sends to the state over the past five years, will likely see another increase in the amount of city tax levy funds it must contribute to the maintenance of the state correctional system.
Kinship Guardianship: Most state money for foster care is lumped into the Foster Care Block Grant, which is to be maintained in the new budget at $436 million. This year, some money from the block grant will pay for Kinship Guardian Assistance, a new program that allows foster kids to leave the formal child welfare system and live with a guardian, who will receive a stipend. In most cases, this guardian will be a relative with whom the child has already lived in foster care. One advantage: the child retains his or her legal relationship with parents, which is not the case in an adoption.
The program helps children avoid the trauma of being permanently cut off from a parent. But there's a debate over whether it should be paid for out of the Foster Care Block Grant. "That money is supposed to be for kids in foster care," says Stephanie Gendell, a policy analyst at the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, which advocated for the state to find separate funding for the program. "Taking that money sets a bad precedent."
"The Foster Care Block Grant is a limited resource and not intended for long term supports like guardianship, which is why the City advocated for the State to share the financial responsibility for this program in the same way that we do for adoptions," says John B. Mattingly, Commissioner of the City's Administration for Children's Services. The City wouldn't bear a significant financial impact in the current year, since families receiving the subsidy would be leaving the foster care rolls, but Commissioner Mattingly argues that the funding system ultimately places the full cost on local governments. "The concern is that there are no new dedicated resources and we know from past experience that block grant funding is unlikely to grow."
Adoption subsidies: When kids are adopted out of foster care, their adoptive families usually receive financial support from local governments. The state has traditionally reimbursed cities at a significantly higher rate for adoption subsidies than for other foster care expenses. That way, localities had an incentive to get young people out of foster care and into permanent families.
Under the new budget, the state's share of adoption subsidies will drop from 74 percent to 62 percent, the same as for preventive services, child protection and other child welfare expenses. There are currently more than 27,000 children receiving adoption subsidies in New York City, at an average of $980 per month. The city plans to make up for state reductions with about $3 million in city tax revenue.
Sexually exploited youth: The new budget eliminated a plan to build a $3 million safe house for sexually exploited youth, usually kids who've worked as prostitutes under the control of a pimp.
The state will continue to fund traditionally defined preventive services, which aim to stabilize struggling families and prevent their kids from ending up in foster care, at last year's reimbursement rate of 62 percent.
However, in his budget proposal, Governor Cuomo conceived of a new funding stream that would have lumped together a wide array of other programs that strive to keep kids out of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
The plan would have cut funding for home visiting programs for new mothers and babies, and as a result it would have made the state ineligible for millions of dollars from the federal healthcare reform act, according to budget analysts.
That proposal was ditched. In the enacted budget, the legislature restored last year's $23 million in funding for the state's largest home visiting program, Healthy Families New York. The state's other major home visiting program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, will lose $2 million in designated money but remain eligible for a competitive funding stream known as Community Optional Preventive Services, which will receive a total of just over $12 million, down from $24 million last year..
Other preventive programs will receive a total of about $21 million, or half the funding they received last fiscal year. These programs range from after-school services that keep kids off the street to temporary housing for runaway and homeless youth. (For a full list of the prevention programs and their allocated funding, see the Citizens' Committee for Children budget analysis here.)
The state's $393 million Child Care Block Grant, which helps cities and counties subsidize childcare for low-income families, will stay at the same level as last year. However, the state will lose nearly $50 million in federal childcare money that it received in the 2009 stimulus act.
The loss will be a hard hit for New York City, which has seen its own childcare costs rise by more than 60 percent since 2004, according to the IBO. In 2010, the city provided childcare subsidy vouchers to about 102,000 kids. This year, it plans to cut more than 16,000 of those vouchers, or about one third of the subsidies that currently go to families that aren't on public assistance. Many advocates have raised the concern that cutting childcare for working-poor families will push more New Yorkers into unemployment.
The budget provides $4.9 million to subsidize childcare for students at SUNY and CUNY colleges, and for childcare demonstration projects that provide care to working families whose incomes make them ineligible for city vouchers. Those programs received $7 million from the state last year.
The Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides work experience to young people around the state, has been a New York City budget football for years. First the funding gets cut, then advocates scramble to get it restored, usually by the City Council.
This year, the governor proposed to kill state funding for the program altogether. The legislature reversed that move, restoring the full $15.5 million that the program received last year. However, New York City still faces a loss of 12,000 summer youth jobs due to a loss in federal stimulus funding, according to Anthony Ng, Director of Policy and Advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses.
The state will also lose $4.5 million for Advantage Afterschool programs, which provide activities for kids in the afternoon. Total state funding for the programs will be $17.7 million.
In 2010, the state decided to implement a three-phase, 33 percent increase in public assistance grants, which hadn't been raised in the previous 20 years. This year's budget delays the third and final increase by a year, putting it off until July 2012.
The legislature rejected a proposal by the governor to apply harsher sanctions to families where a parent fails to comply with work requirements. As in the past, sanctions will apply to the portion of benefits that go to support the parent, rather than benefits allocated to the entire family.