How does the federal shutdown affect NYC children and families?

When Congress shut down the federal government nine days ago (and counting), billions of dollars stopped flowing from D.C. to state and local governments. With notable exceptions, most social safety net programs have kept running, using a patchwork of funds left over from the last fiscal year, contingency dollars from federal agencies, and money from state and local governments. What does the shutdown mean for programs that serve children and families in New York City?

In most cases, the answer is not much...yet. The majority of social service programs are safely funded through the month of October—either because they have carryover money from before the shutdown, or because the programs don’t follow the yearly federal budget cycle.

If the shutdown lasts into November, then city programs—and the families they serve—will face much bigger problems. Contingency funding plans, created by many federal agencies to help programs ride out the shutdown, only last through October 31. Few state or city agencies have the kind of rainy-day money that would keep programs running for long, without federal dollars coming in. The standard public statement offered by city agencies is that they won’t speculate on November.

The uncertainty is particularly damaging for organizations like food banks and soup kitchens, which anticipate increased demand due to major cuts in the federal food stamp program, set to take effect in November regardless of what happens with the shutdown.

Read on for a rundown of the shutdown’s consequences for New York City programs. Of course, these assume that Congress doesn’t default on its debts on October 17. In that case, all bets are off.

FOOD AND CASH ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Food Stamps: Federal money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) is safe until the end of the month. That’s because Congress authorized funding for the program as part of the Recovery Act, back in 2009. Since the authorization was already set to last until October 31 of this year, SNAP wasn’t subject to new budget appropriations on October 1.

If the shutdown lasts into November, the US Department of Agriculture has said that it will disburse about $2 billion in contingency funds, which states can use to keep their SNAP programs going.

However, come next month, SNAP will face cutbacks that have nothing to do with the shutdown. Not only will the program almost certainly be cut when Congress passes the Farm Bill (before the shutdown, the Senate’s version of the bill included a SNAP cut of $4.1 billion; the House of Representatives’ bill slashed the program by $40 billion over 10 years), but it will also be subject to a cut that’s been pending since 2010. As part of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” nearly three years ago, Congress funded an increase in school lunch reimbursements by planning a major cut to SNAP, scheduled to take effect November 1 of this year. If the cut goes into effect, New York City residents will lose $19 million per month in food stamp benefits, according to an analysis by the Food Bank for New York City.

Women, Infants and Children (WIC): At the beginning of the week, WIC, the federal program that helps pay for food for pregnant women, new parents and kids up to age 5, looked to be at serious risk of shutting down. Yesterday, however, the USDA released new guidance allowing states to tap into a pot of contingency money, which should keep the program running through October 31. If the shutdown lasts into November, New York State would likely need to come up with its own money to cover the lack of federal funds.

Emergency Food: Last-resort food programs like food banks and soup kitchens rely heavily on federal support. The Food Bank for New York City, which funnels most of the emergency food that goes to hungry New Yorkers, gets about half of its food supplies through the USDA’s The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

The TEFAP supply is safe for this month, because the program had purchased October food before the shutdown. But since no new orders can be placed, TEFAP food will disappear if the shutdown drags into November.

School Lunches: School lunch money comes through the federal Office of Child Nutrition Programs, which has said there are enough carryover funds from last year’s budget to cover meals through the end of October. If the shutdown continues and federal funds dry up in November, advocates speculate that City Hall will likely cover the costs. But with nearly 80 percent of the city’s public school students eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, that would be a major, unforeseen hit to the city’s budget.

Cash Assistance: New York State’s Family Assistance (FA) program provides temporary benefits to needy families with children. Technically, FA shouldn’t be touched by the shutdown, since it operates under the federal government’s basic welfare program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF), which is a mandatory program and therefore not reliant on yearly appropriations. However, TANF does have to be renewed by Congress. The program’s current authorization expired on September 30th, but states are are allowed to use their own money and carryover funds from last fiscal year to keep the program going.

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) says that the Family Assistance program will operate as usual through October 31. A spokesperson declined to speculate on what might happen if the shutdown continues into November.

EDUCATION, CHILDCARE AND AFTER SCHOOL

Head Start: None of the city’s Head Start programs are at risk of closing this month. Most of the programs, which serve low-income kids aged 3-5, are administered by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). While ACS uses federal dollars to fund the programs, its contracts started earlier this year and are not immediately dependent on a new federal budget.

Fortunately for city kids, none of the Head Start programs located in the city had federal contracts up for renewal in October.Nationally, 23 Head Start programs (serving a total of 19,000 kids) were up for contract renewal on October 1, according to the National Head Start Association. Until they were rescued yesterday by a billionaire couple from Texas, seven programs had shut down and six were on the brink—including one in upstate New York.

Schools: Public schools are "forward funded," which means they obtained this year’s federal funding–which covers about 10 percent of the school system’s operating expenses—in last year’s budget and will not be affected by the shutdown.

Childcare and After School: Most of the city’s subsidized childcare programs operate under contract with ACS. Since their contracts started earlier this year, they are not immediately affected by the federal budget or the shutdown.

After school programs administered by the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) and the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) are similarly immune to the federal budget cycle, since their contracts began earlier this year.

CHILD SUPPORT AND FOSTER CARE

Like public schools, child support and foster care services received advanced appropriations in last year’s federal budget, leaving them untouched by the shutdown.

HOUSING

Public Housing: There is enough carryover and contingency money to fund public housing through the end of October, according to a plan released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on October 2.

Section 8: Housing Choice (also known as Section 8) vouchers covering October rents were disbursed before the shutdown. HUD predicts that carryover money will fund November vouchers if the shutdown continues.

Homeless Shelters: The city’s homeless shelter operators, which contract directly with the NYC Department of Homeless Services, are not affected by the shutdown.

 

For Years, Half of all NYPD Trespass Stops Were in Public Housing

People in New York City public housing are subject to more than double their share of police stops, according to government data recently filed in a class action lawsuit over police practices in public housing. Tenants of the New York City Housing Authority make up about five percent of the city’s population. In each of the past seven years, between 11 and 15 percent of all police stops were made on public housing properties. The disparities are even greater when it comes to stops made on suspicion of trespassing: In each of the four years from 2006 through 2009, public housing accounted for half of all the trespassing stops made in the city.

The trespassing lawsuit is being heard in a Manhattan federal court. A similar suit has already gone to trial over trespassing stops in private buildings whose landlords allow police greater access than usual under the ‘Clean Halls’ program. Police are authorized to question people in common areas like lobbies and stairwells—essentially bringing the practice of stop-and-frisk indoors. The plaintiffs argue that stops are so frequent that police effectively run pedestrian checkpoints on public housing grounds.

Kis Ravelin, a 23-year-old resident of the Washington Houses in East Harlem who was arrested for trespassing after being stopped in the lobby of his own building, tells Child Welfare Watch that he assumes he’s subject to suspicion every time he sees a police officer in his development. “It makes you feel like an experiment gone rogue,” he says. “Like they’re waiting for you to go haywire.” His case was promptly dismissed by the court, but not until he’d spent a night in jail. Ravelin was interviewed as part of a six-month Child Welfare Watch investigation of police relationships with NYCHA tenants, focusing on both young people and older residents; the report will be published in the upcoming Fall 2012 issue of the Watch.

The NYPD defends trespass stops as an indispensable tool for preventing violent crime in public housing. The overall rate of reported crime is 30 percent higher in NYCHA developments than in the rest of the city, according to police data. Rates of violent crime are nearly twice as high, and drug crime rates are four times higher. In one NYCHA-issued survey, nearly half of respondents said they were afraid to leave their own apartments because of crime.

Aida Melendez, 61, has lived in the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem all her life and serves on her building’s Resident Watch. At night, she says, “if you don’t know how to tuck and roll, you better not be outside.”

But higher crime rates don’t directly account for the elevated number of police stops on public housing properties, according to an analysis by Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University law professor hired by plaintiffs to analyze crime and enforcement data.

Even controlling for crime rates, socioeconomic conditions and the volume of police presence, Fagan found that people on public housing grounds are close to four times likelier to be stopped on suspicion of trespassing than people in immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

Some policing experts argue that such aggressive, targeted enforcement can make crime more intractable in vulnerable communities, because it undermines police officers’ ability to collaborate with residents. “Good police work involves building relationships with people in communities. They’re the ones who know where crime is happening and who’s committing it,” says Paul Butler, a Georgetown University professor and former prosecutor for the federal Department of Justice. “The police need friends. They’re making enemies.”

The city’s policing numbers point to a reality more complicated than either side would contend. Following negotiations with tenant leaders in 2009, the rate of trespassing stops on public housing grounds dropped by nearly 60 percent. Last year, public housing accounted for just under a third of the city’s total trespassing stops—still an outsized proportion, but a significant decrease from the 50 percent it represented in preceding years.

There’s no evidence that cutting down on trespass stops tied the police department’s hands when it came to enforcement. During the same period, the total number of arrests on public housing properties barely declined at all.

 

 

What's the Matter with Staten Island?

Over the past two years, the north shore community of Staten Island had more children placed in foster care than any other community district in New York City, according to a Child Welfare Watch analysis of Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) data. In 2010, the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton, near the Staten Island ferry, had the unfortunate distinction of having more children placed in foster care than any other. In 2011, the district ranked second citywide.

The total number of children placed in foster care dropped sharply last year across the city, from more than 7,000 in 2010 to under 5,700 last year. There was a substantial decline in St. George and Stapleton as well, from 361 placements to 273. Nonetheless, the community district remains just below the top of the list.

What’s clear in the city’s 2010 data is that, when child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe abuse or neglect may have occurred, a child had a nearly one-third one-fourth chance of being placed in foster care. This is a rate higher than any other New York City neighborhood with substantial involvement in the child welfare system.

Citywide, just over 19 percent 15 percent of “indicated cases”— where investigators have determined sufficient reason to suspect child abuse or neglect—led to a child being placed in foster care. In the remaining cases, children remained with their families, often receiving services and supports such as parenting classes, child care or counseling.

High rates of isolation and poverty and a philosophy of protecting children by removing them from home all contribute to the frequent placements, according to many who work in child welfare here.

“I think everyone who works in Staten Island knows how overprotective the system is,” says Jody Bahar, an attorney who represents Staten Island parents in Family Court. “We’re going to take the kids. That’s what we do here.”

Others cite a lack of institutional supports for low-income residents. “You have very poor people, and the demographic is very depressed economically, and [it doesn’t have] services that other parts of Staten Island have,” says Ralph Porzio, also an attorney for parents and a former Family Court judge. Porzio adds that services such as subsidized daycare can have a positive snowball effect for families, with one service connecting them to other local resources and supports.

Indeed, there are several thousand young children in these neighborhoods who are eligible for but not receiving subsidized child care—but this is true in most of the city’s low-income communities.

Where the northern Staten Island community district stands out, however, is the high rate of abuse and neglect reporting, and the path taken by these cases once they are investigated. Some activists say that child protective staff are too aggressive in their decision to seek removal.

“It’s the philosophy and the thinking of the administration. You have some very pro-removal people in charge,” says Fola Campbell, executive director of the Staten Island Council of Child Abuse and Neglect. She says that the tendency to remove reflects the second-class status of the St. George and Stapleton  communities, which have many immigrants and families of color, within an otherwise conservative, largely white borough.

Whether it's for conscious or unconscious reasons, “ACS will take a harder-line stance on those people who are poor and those people who are of color,” says Porzio. As in the rest of the city, Staten Island Family Court usually goes along with ACS child protective investigators’ recommendations to remove children.

“You need someone who is not only going to be remarkably diligent, but remarkably strong of character to say that this is the recommendation from ACS and I’m going to go against it,” says Porzio.

The motives may not be bad, says attorney Jody Bahar. “It’s for altruistic reasons, I do believe that… [Child protective workers] want children to be in a home like their home would be.” Still, she says, “My view is that we take the child too quickly.”

In response to a request for comment, ACS said in a written statement: “It is our goal to keep families intact and advocate for a child’s removal only when we believe there to be imminent risk to the child’s life or health.”

 

UPDATE AND CORRECTION-JULY 6

Our  analysis of ACS data comparing indication rates and placement of children in foster care contained an error, although the overall analysis is accurate. Here are the correct numbers: Among city neighborhoods with the greatest number of children entering foster care in 2010, Staten Island's Community District 1 (the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton) tops the list in the percentage of children with indicated cases that are placed. When child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe a child may have been abused or neglected, that child had a 24 percent chance of being placed in foster care. Central Harlem came in a close second, with nearly 23 percent of children with indicated cases getting placed.

In Bushwick, by comparison, about one in 10 children with an indicated case is placed in foster care.

Our original analysis failed to account for the number of children placed into foster care for reasons other than abuse and neglect (such as children whose parents placed them in care voluntarily). The corrected data are below in Table 1, which lists the neighborhoods with a high number of placements.

The ACS uses a different method to measure the outcomes of child protective investigations that are indicated—that is, when the investigator believed there was reason to suspect abuse or neglect had taken place. Below, Table 2 shows the number of indicated investigations that led to a foster care placement of any child in the family, within two months of the conclusion of the investigation. Using this methodology, one placement can represent one or more children being placed from the same family. Central Harlem and Staten Island remain in the top three for the highest percentage of cases that result in placements.

Table 1: Percent of Children in Indicated Reports Placed in Foster Care

(Top 10 community districts plus Jamaica and Bushwick, and five boroughs)

 

Table 2: Indicated Investigations with Foster Care Placement, FY 2011

(Includes placements made within two months of conclusion of investigation)

CD

Foster Care Placement

Total Indicated Cases

BX1 - Mott Haven/Melrose

 74

11.6%

 640

BX2 - Hunts Point/Longwood

 70

16.7%

 418

BX3 - Morrisania/Crotona

 82

13.5%

 608

BX4 - Concourse/Highbridge

 108

14.5%

 747

BX5 - Fordham/University Heights

 96

13.4%

 714

BX6 - Belmont/East Tremont

 98

14.6%

 669

BX7 - Kingsbridge Hghts/Bedford

 72

12.7%

 567

BX8 - Riverdale/Fieldston

 18

11.9%

 151

BX9 - Parkchester/Soundview

 105

13.1%

 802

BX10 - Throgs Neck/Coop City

 23

9.5%

 242

BX11 - Morris Park/Bronxdale

 32

9.7%

 330

BX12 - Williamsbridge/Baychester

 86

14.5%

 595

BX - Unknown CD

 22

20.2%

 109

BX - Total

 886

13.4%

 6,592

BK1 - Williamsburg/Greenpoint

 33

10.3%

 320

BK2 - Fort Greene/Brooklyn Hts

 33

16.0%

 206

BK3 - Bedford Stuyvesant

 160

15.2%

 1,053

BK4 - Bushwick

 63

12.7%

 495

BK5 - East New York/Starrett City

 145

13.3%

 1,090

BK6 - Park Slope/Carroll Gardens

 18

11.4%

 158

BK7 -Sunset Park

 13

4.6%

 280

BK8 - Crown Heights North

 53

14.3%

 370

BK9 - Crown Heights South/Prospect

 33

13.1%

 252

BK10 - Bay Ridge/Dyker Hghts

 9

6.4%

 140

BK11 - Bensonhurst

 19

9.1%

 209

BK12 - Borough Park

 16

8.3%

 193

BK13 - Coney Island

 33

10.2%

 322

BK14 - Flatbush/Midwood

 27

6.8%

 397

BK15 - Sheepshead Bay

 9

4.5%

 201

BK16 - Brownsville

 138

17.8%

 775

BK17 - East Flatbush

 73

13.5%

 542

BK18 - Flatlands/Canarsie

 42

11.1%

 380

BK - Unknown CD

 51

22.0%

 232

BK - Total

 968

12.7%

 7,615

MN1 - Financial District

 3

13.6%

 22

MN2 - Greenwich Village/Soho

 -

0.0%

 15

MN3 - Lower East Side/Chinatown

 73

18.8%

 389

MN4 - Clinton/Chelsea

 21

21.0%

 100

MN5 - Midtown

 11

19.3%

 57

MN6 - Stuyvesant Town/Turtle Bay

 9

17.0%

 53

MN7 - Upper West Side

 29

13.6%

 213

MN8 - Upper East Side

 13

13.3%

 98

MN9 - Morningside Heights/Hamilton

 65

17.3%

 376

MN10 - Central Harlem

 98

18.9%

 519

MN11 - East Harlem

 127

18.6%

 683

MN12 - Washington Heights/Inwood

 54

12.6%

 428

MN - Unknown CD

 21

19.4%

 108

MN - Total

 524

17.1%

 3,061

QN1 - Astoria

 43

12.8%

 335

QN2 - Sunnyside/Woodside

 12

8.4%

 143

QN3 - Jackson Heights

 27

7.4%

 364

QN4 - Elmhurst/Corona

 18

5.1%

 351

QN5 - Ridgewood/Maspeth

 7

2.5%

 280

QN6 - Rego Park/Forest Hills

 1

1.9%

 54

QN7 - Flushing/Whitestone

 22

10.2%

 215

QN8 - Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest

 16

12.1%

 132

QN9 - Ozone Park/Woodhaven

 31

9.8%

 315

QN10 - South Ozone Park/Howard Beach

 22

10.7%

 205

QN11 - Bayside/Little Neck

 4

6.7%

 60

QN12 - Jamaica/Hollis

 96

12.0%

 799

QN13 - Queens Village

 53

13.5%

 394

QN14 - Rockaway/Broad Channel

 60

11.5%

 521

QN - Unknown CD

 18

18.9%

 95

QN - Total

 430

10.1%

 4,263

SI1 - Saint George/Stapleton

 118

18.2%

 650

SI2 - South Beach/Willowbrook

 22

13.5%

 163

SI3 - Tottenville/Great Kills

 17

11.3%

 151

SI - Unknown CD

 14

20.9%

 67

SI - Total

 171

16.6%

 1,030

NYC

 2,979

13.2%

 22,564

Source: ACS

 

 

 

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