NYC’s Proposed Financial Plans Put More Costs on CUNY Students

By Felicha C. Stevens

Mayor Bill de Blasio pictured in 2013. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

While New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ten-year plan for the city, FY20, makes big promises about greater affordability, his 2020 budget proposal calls for large funding cuts to city agencies including CUNY, Citywide Administrative Services Department, New York City Health and Hospitals, and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

Announced on March 7, the $92.2 billion plan incorporates a loss of $600 million dollars in federal money, which will result in cuts to the funding of agriculture, education and health care organizations. Budget shortfalls will include $125 million in financial assistance for families in need, $59 million in vital health services for New Yorkers and $300 million in education funding.

According to  NYC  Open Data statistics, these cuts will burden 1,620,356 New Yorkers who rely on government assistance to help with their monthly expenses, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Human Resources Association (HRA). CUNY students and their families will be affected in major ways, some by multiple cutbacks at the same time. 

“I suffer from a lot of illness. I’m HIV positive and I struggle to make it,” said James Foster, a 60-year-old student at Lehman’s Adult Learning Center, “If they cut my food stamps that means I would have to spend more money, I’m only getting $192.00, and food is very expensive.” Foster will be affected by the cuts to both financial assistance for families in need and health services. 

The cuts were ostensibly made in response to the state’s $2.3 billion shortfall in the 2019 Income Tax Revenue and a $1.6 billion projected shortfall in 2020, according to City agencies were able to find $1 billion in savings from the 2019 and 2020 preliminary budgets, but this leaves another $750 million in agency savings needed. Many Lehman students and staff fear the outcome will make their lives harder.

“I find it outrageous [and] I’m extremely upset about it! I know it’s going to hurt my students. I know it will affect me. I’m hoping the numbers are just negotiating points rather than real numbers,” said Mindy Levokove, a reading, writing and math instructor at the Adult Learning Center for GED preparation at Lehman. 

Lehman junior Genesis Ramos, a 22-year-old English and journalism double major, concurred. “As a student, it affects me. The money that is being cut is the money that I need for my books. It’s the money that I could be using for Metro Cards or to get food on campus.”

“The food in the grocery store is expensive, we get a little bit of food stamps, and we have to use that to budget for 30 days. You have to budget how you eat because we need those food stamps,” said Michelle Solomon, 53, a Castle Hill resident and student at Lehman’s Adult Learning Center. 

De Blasio’s FY20 plan promises a more affordable city, with guaranteed healthcare access  for  600,000 uninsured New Yorkers, improved access to care including mental health services and more financial contributions to “3-K for All.” However, many students remain skeptical of these promises. 

“I feel like it’s insane because I don’t think we are going to see the money being used for this stuff,” said Ramos. “If we actually see this it will be good for us, but it’s hard for many people, especially, when you come to the Bronx to see the things they say they are doing. They say they will have better public health care and we don’t. Many people complain that their health care, especially when it’s public, is really expensive and they have to pay out of pocket.” 

Felicia Turner, a 28-year-old student at Lehman’s Adult Learning Center and mother of two small boys, disagrees. “I have a 6-year-old, and school is a big deal. Kids need their education,” said Turner, who has benefited from “3-K for All.” “It has helped my son a lot with his ABC’s; his reading level has improved a whole lot. The pre-K he was in had four teachers. It was hands-on, and they knew how to deal with kids.”  

“The government operations are laughable, except nobody’s laughing.” 

- Mindy Levokove, a reading, writing and math instructor at Lehman’s Adult Learning Center

The FY20 will launch in the summer of 2019 in the Bronx and city-wide in 2021. The ten-year plan will cost $104.1 billion dollars with the majority of its revenue going towards infrastructure. The financial plan summary anticipates that 37 percent of the budget will focus on infrastructure and 29 percent on government operations, leaving only 22 percent for school, and 12 percent for housing. 

“I feel like there might be a little bit of neglect when it comes to [school costs],” said Gregory Morelo, a 23-year-old Lehman senior and music major. “It does sound like a real low number in comparison to everything else, especially since there are thousands of students across the city that would also need financial assistance because they’re attending school.” However, Morelo supported the focus on infrastructure “because some of the neighborhoods here in the Bronx are a little bit outdated and run down. They deserve to be updated.” 

“They can take all the money away from government operations as far as I’m concerned,” Levokove said. “The government operations are laughable, except nobody’s laughing. I want the mayor to stop running all over the place and make good on all of the promises he made before he became mayor.” Before he was elected, she recalled, “I believed what he said, and other than the universal pre-K, I don’t see what he’s done. He needs to focus on helping people in the city and forget what else he’s got in his mind.”