Officials with Mayor Eric Adams’ Office of Management and Budget (OMB) insisted that cuts to thousands of vacant positions across the city’s municipal ranks in the Fiscal Year 2024 preliminary budget won’t negatively impact city services during a City Council hearing digging into the spending plan on Monday.
The mayor’s budget director, Jacques Jiha, said in testimony to the council’s Committee on Finance that agencies still have capacity to hire for 23,000 vacant posts across the municipal workforce, even with cuts to 4,000 vacant positions in the current fiscal year and 4,300 in the next. The cuts were implemented through Adams’ November Financial Plan, where he asked agencies to slash their vacant positions by 50% in anticipation of a likely economic downturn.
Monday’s hearing was the first in a series the council will hold in the runup to the release of the mayor’s executive budget in April. A final budget deal must be reached by July 1.
As a result of the cuts, Jiha said the city will glean around $550 million in savings between the current and next fiscal years.
“It is important to note that agencies still have the resources and budget authority to fill over 23,000 vacant positions citywide,” Jiha told city lawmakers.
The budget director said vacant positions that need to be filled include over 2,100 at the Department of Social Services (DSS), more than 670 at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and upwards of 400 at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
Jiha attributed the massive vacancies to the mayor’s hesitancy to embrace remote work for municipal workers and the recently ended public employee vaccine mandate implemented by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in late 2021.
“We hired, for example, at OMB, after two or three weeks they leave because they want to work remote,” Jiha said.
Council members, however, were dubious of Jiha’s notion that cutting vacant positions won’t affect the delivery of city services at agencies that oversee the city’s social safety net like DSS, DOHMH and HPD.
Brooklyn Council Member Lincoln Restler (D), said the preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (PMMR), released in January, clearly shows the reduced city workforce is making it harder for city agencies to dole out services and meet their benchmarks in a timely manner.
“The Human Resources Administration (HRA) is down to processing 42% of SNAP applications, Food Stamps applications, on time, down from 92%,” Restler said. “The Department of Transportation (DOT) is down to only installing half as many bike and bus lanes as they did previously. HPD is issuing 30% fewer Section 8 vouchers in 30 days.”
“We are failing the people that rely on our services because of the mayor’s rigid ideological insistence on shrinking the headcount of the city of New York,” he added. “Why does OMB believe that we should continue to shrink the headcount of the city of New York?”
Council Member Pierina Sanchez (D-Bronx) raised similar concerns about agencies’ depleted capacity to deliver services, specifically pointing to HPD, where affordable housing production dropped 45% between 2022 and the previous year — per the Mayor’s Management Report.
But from OMB’s perspective, Jiha said in response to Restler, it doesn’t make “any sense” to add funds to the budgets of agencies that still have thousands of vacancies.
“The agencies have the authority to hire 23,000 employees,” Jiha said. “If they hire those 23,000 employees and come back to us with needs, we will discuss it with them. But right now it doesn’t make any sense to say ‘add more vacant positions and that will solve the problem.’”
Council members also argued that the administration has more financial resources available than is included in its spending plan. Council Committee on Finance chair, Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), said an analysis by the legislature’s own economists showed city tax revenues would be $2.4 billion higher than what OMB projected for the current fiscal year and $2.8 billion higher for the next.
“After reviewing the administration’s preliminary budget, concerns that the council raised last year about veering into unnecessary austerity have returned,” Brannan said in his opening remarks. “In many ways the present economy continues to defy expectations and see strength. Yet OMB seems to unfortunately operate out of an abundance of pessimism.”