Mayor, City Council indicate priorities for Immigrants in budget

By Prem Calvin Prashad

The mayor’s preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016 contains a host of programs and funding relevant to Queens residents. New York City’s next fiscal year, FY16, begins on July 1, 2015, though the budgeting process is well underway. Overall, in the fact sheet released by the mayor’s office, Mayor de Blasio has expressed concern at the prevalence of job growth in low-wage sectors, 46 percent of New Yorkers living at or near poverty levels and the highest income gap since the 1920s.

The $78.3 billion executive budget, described by the administration as “cautious” in the face of economic uncertainty, prioritizes public safety and “expanding opportunity” for New Yorkers, while also boosting the city’s reserves and creating a contingency capital-projects fund. Most initiatives in the budget seek to enhance or develop a specific aspect of services provided by city agencies.

The budget includes an additional $5 million to enhance staffing for ID NYC. The citywide ID card was massively popular at launch, inundating the staff assigned to process applications and causing significant lags to fulfillment.

Through the Department of Youth and Community Development, some neighborhood-based organizations will receive a share of a federal block grant to provide necessary services to immigrants, youth, seniors and families. For example, Jackson Heights’ Chhaya CDC, based in Neighborhood Development Area 3 (Jackson Heights, Woodside, Sunnyside, and Astoria) will receive $265,000 over three years to continue housing advocacy and tenants’ rights efforts in the community.

The City Council’s official budget response took a less guarded view of the city’s economic situation, noting that 2014 had been a year of prosperity, with record job growth and tourism, as well as a tax surplus. The Council stressed the need to capitalize on this prosperity, which they contend is still possible with the fiscal conservatism and caution stressed in the executive budget.

Most notable for many immigrant communities is the council’s insistence that the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project be baselined in to the executive budget. The $4.9 million program serves as a public defender for deportation defense and is the first of its kind in the nation. So far, the City Council has footed the bill for the program. The Council also urges an additional $4 million be allocated to health, social and legal services for “Unaccompanied Minor Children,” or refugees, predominantly from Central America, seeking asylum in the United States.

In comparison, the city reports savings of $4.5 million yearly by harvesting methane as fuel from Department of Environmental Protection wastewater treatment plants.

Notably, the executive budget does not mention funding for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal initiative that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and meet stringent criteria, to have a path to citizenship. At the urging of the Council, the administration had included $2.5 million in administrative support in FY15, but the Council now requests the addition of $10 million to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget to compensate for $18 million in funding expiring at the end of the current fiscal year.

The City Council has also baselined two Immigrant Opportunities Initiatives – Literary Services and Legal, at $1 million and $3.3 million respectively, administered by DYCD. This is likely in conjunction with literacy services provided by the Queens Library, cited by the mayor as serving over 806,000 residents with 46,000 free programs.

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