Good morning, Chair Ayala and Members of the Committee on General Welfare. My name is Wil Lopez, and I am the Director of Government Affairs for the Urban Resource Institute. URI has been in operation for close to 40 years and is now the largest provider of shelter services in the country. URI currently provides temporary housing and services to more than 2,200 people who have been impacted by domestic violence and intimate partner violence and families experiencing homelessness and will increase capacity in the near future. URI is committed to developing and delivering innovative client-centered and trauma-informed services to individuals affected by domestic and gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. I am here today to discuss the city’s preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the impact it will have on New Yorkers who rely on the crucial programs and services URI provides.
Today’s testimony will focus on four specific areas of the fiscal year 2024 preliminary budget. First, I will discuss the cuts to the New York City Departments of Social Services (DSS) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) budgets. Next, I will discuss the cuts in headcount to the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV). Moreover, I will discuss the need to fully fund the ENDGBV microgrants program. Lastly, I will discuss the need to increase funding for the Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE Funding).
Cuts to DSS and DHS Budgets
First and foremost, I want to express our disappointment with the proposed cuts to DSS and DHS. The total cuts amount to $755 million, with $650 million to DSS and $105 million to DHS. These cuts will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable members of our community.
First, let’s consider the proposed cuts to DHS. The $105 million cut to DHS includes reductions to several critical services, including security and cleaning. These cuts are particularly alarming, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Homeless shelters are high-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission, and proper cleaning and sanitization are essential to prevent outbreaks. Without adequate cleaning measures, shelters become breeding grounds for illness, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission for both shelter residents and staff. As a result, the cuts to DHS could have a devastating impact on the health and safety of the homeless population and shelter workers. Further, without proper security, shelter staff and residents are exposed to an unnecessary risk of harm. It is imperative that we invest in these critical services to ensure the health and safety of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and the staff who provide services to them.
Moreover, the proposed cuts to DHS also include reductions in the budget for outreach and supportive services. Outreach teams are responsible for connecting individuals experiencing street homelessness with shelter, medical care, and other essential services. These teams play a critical role in reducing homelessness and improving the health outcomes of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. By reducing funding for outreach teams, the city risks losing ground in our work to reduce homelessness.
Similarly, the cuts to DSS are alarming. The preliminary budget includes a $277 million cut to the city’s Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) program. FHEPS provides rental assistance to families who are at risk of becoming homeless or who are currently homeless. It is a lifeline for many families who would otherwise be forced to live on the streets or in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. Cutting this program will only exacerbate the city’s homelessness crisis and push more families into instability and poverty.
Research has shown that rental assistance programs like FHEPS are effective at reducing homelessness and housing instability. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that rental assistance programs reduced homelessness rates by 25% and improved housing stability for families. Additionally, a study by the Urban Institute found that rental assistance programs were associated with improved educational outcomes for children, reduced healthcare costs, and increased economic mobility for families.
URI respectfully requests that the New York City Council restores funding for DSS and DHS.
Headcount Cuts to ENDGBV
The preliminary budget proposes to cut 84 full-time Domestic Violence and Gender Based Violence (DV/GBV) liaison positions form ENDGBV’s headcount. This cut amounts to a mere $5.2 million in savings.
The purpose of ENDGBV’s DV/GBV Liaisons is to provide support and resources to survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in their communities.
DV/GBV Liaisons are individuals who are trained to provide information and support to survivors of domestic and gender-based violence, as well as to raise awareness about the issue and work with community partners to develop effective solutions. DV/GBV Liaisons partner with various organizations, such as schools, hospitals, and community centers, to ensure that survivors receive the services they need, including counseling, legal assistance, and medical care. They also work to improve the response to domestic and gender-based violence by training professionals in various fields, such as law enforcement, healthcare, and social services, on how to recognize and respond to the issue.
Cutting all the DV/GBV Liaison positions from ENDGBV will have a negative impact on the ability of the city to effectively respond to domestic and gender-based violence. Without DV/GBV Liaisons, survivors of domestic and gender-based violence would have reduced access to information, resources, and support. Without this support, survivors may struggle to access the help they need and may be at greater risk of further harm.
Additionally, DV/GBV Liaisons play an important role in raising awareness about domestic and gender-based violence and working with community partners to develop effective solutions to prevent and respond to this issue.
Cutting all the DV/GBV Liaison positions from ENDGBV will also have a broader impact on the community. Domestic and gender-based violence doesn’t just affect survivors, its impacts are felt by survivors’ families, friends, and communities. Without effective support and resources, the impact of domestic and gender-based violence may be felt more widely, and the community may suffer as a result.
URI respectfully requests that the New York City Council restore the funding to these critical positions.
Fully Fund the ENDGBV Microgrants Program
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot for a new emergency financial relief program for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence (DV/GBV) on May 21, 2020, to provide funding for immediate safety, economic, and housing needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, delivered through a contract with Sanctuary for Families, provided need-based, low-barrier microgrants to survivors through existing city service providers. The program exceeded its initial goal of serving 312 families and disbursed a total of $468,750.00 to 377 distinct clients, with an average disbursal of $1,243.37 per client. The microgrant program had positive impacts on survivors’ mental health and overall well-being, contributed to their children’s feelings of safety and well-being, and helped to cover rent or maintain stable housing.
Following the success of this pilot program, Council Member Tiffany Cabán, introduced and passed legislation directing ENDGBV and DSS to establish a fund and dispense modest grants to qualifying individuals and families who have stayed in domestic violence shelters or sought services through the city’s Family Justice Centers. The mayor’s proposed budget allocates $1.2 million for this program, an amount that is far below what the projected needs are for this program.
An astonishing 98% of survivors of domestic and gender-based violence report experiencing economic abuse and the majority of survivors cite it as one of the top reasons that they stay in or return to an abusive situation. The purpose of the microgrants is to provide emergency financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence in New York City, primarily for covering the cost of housing and other immediate needs. The grants aim to address the immediate rental assistance and rehousing needs of survivors of domestic violence, who often end up in the broader DHS system after being discharged from domestic violence shelters. The grants are intended to help survivors maintain stable housing, considering that domestic violence is one of the primary drivers of homelessness in New York City.
URI respectfully requests that the New York City Council allocate $6 million to fully fund this vital program, but not less than $3 million to ensure it can support survivors and their families.
Increase funding for the Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE Funding)
The New York City Council’s Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative (DoVE Funding) is a critical program designed to support survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in the city. The initiative aims to provide funding to domestic violence service providers to help them provide comprehensive services to survivors, including emergency shelter, counseling, legal assistance, and job training. The DoVE Funding also supports initiatives that work towards preventing domestic violence by educating the public and raising awareness about the issue. This funding is crucial for domestic violence service providers to continue to provide support to survivors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a surge in domestic violence cases. The DoVE Funding initiative serves as an important step in the fight against domestic violence in New York City, and it is essential for the safety and well-being of survivors in the city.
As the Council negotiates this year’s budget, URI and other domestic violence services providers urge the Council to increase the amounts available for this initiative as it provides Council Members the ability to directly impact survivors in their respective districts.
In conclusion, we urge the City Council to prioritize funding for DSS and DHS in the upcoming budget, reverse the cuts in headcount at ENDGBV, fully fund the ENDGBV Microgrants program, and increase DoVE funding. The services and programs provided by these agencies are vital to the health and safety of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations. We cannot afford to make cuts that will have such a devastating impact on our communities. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.