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.”

Lehman Students Protest Proposed MTA Fare Hike

By Felicha Stevens

The iconic MTA Metrocard. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The MTA could potentially increase the current $2.75 bus and subway fare to $3.00 in March 2019. CUNY students, community members, local riders and transit workers spoke out against the hike at numerous town hall meetings throughout the tristate area. 

At the MTA’s public hearing at Hostos Community College, several CUNY students confronted the agency’s board members about the approved fare hike. 

“I take the bus to school every day for $2.75. I refill my card weekly because it ends extremely fast,” said Crystal Dennis, 18, a freshman biology major who takes the 55 and 20 buses from Mount Vernon, NY. “To tell the truth, $3.00 will end faster, I will have to refill [my card] constantly.”

The last MTA fare hike, implemented in March 2017, priced an unlimited 30-day metro card at $121.00.  The newly proposed fare will increase this price by 4 percent to $126.25. According to data released by Georgetown University Center for Education and Workplace, the fare increase will financially impact college students, 25% of whom nationwide are both full-time students and employees. 

Photo by Felicha Stevens.

“I don’t really have a luxurious income that I can use to afford MTA transportation fares of this kind. I rely on my parents, who are already struggling with their many bills and expenses, such as rent, light, and food. The fare increase will hurt all of us long-term,” said Moussa Payinkay, Lehman senior and biology major.

Sasha Murphy, a case manager at a Bronx shelter said, “These fare hikes are not bettering our community. We have people who are struggling every day because rents are going up, our wages are staying stagnant and now the MTA will increase fares even more. How can people meet basic needs while already struggling to sustain themselves?”

Murphy is an advocate of NYC Swipe it Forward, a campaign started by activists, such as Black Youth Project 100, New York Chapter and Police Reform Organizing Project, which challenges New Yorkers to swipe strangers on the subway using their unlimited MetroCards. The campaign not only helps reduce the amount of summons for turnpike jumps but helps people who cannot afford to ride the train.

Many students also object to paying more for deplorable service. Train delays caused by major incidents such as signal problems, medical emergencies and train track issues are getting worse. Data from the Subway Performance Dashboard shows a total of 24 signal problems and 11 track malfunctions in November 2018. 

Kimberlin Ballard, a Lehman junior and political science major who rides the D train to and from work is frustrated with the delays. “Trains are still delayed, everybody is late for their job or school. I just feel like this money is not going to a greater cause.” 

She is even more frustrated that she will have to pay more for a decaying system. “It is money out of my pocket. I don’t get free metro cards instead I pay more money to commute to school. It affects me financially because I also have to pay for my books.”