NYC Budget Watchdog Says Adams’s $4.3 Billion in Migrant Spending Doesn’t Add Up
The IBO’s highest-cost scenario is still $600 million lower than City Hall’s projections.
5:52 PM EDT on May 8, 2023
For months, Mayor Eric Adams has been warning about the massive hole in the City's budget that exists, he says, due to the cost of housing and supporting arriving migrants. Lately, as he and the City Council negotiate the budget for the next fiscal year, Adams has touted that supporting asylum seekers will cost $4.3 billion through the next year—and he's been using that number to justify cutting other vital City services.
As Hell Gate noted recently, "for the City to hit $4.3 billion in asylum seeker spending by the end of the next fiscal year, it would, on average, have to spend significantly more every single month between now and then than it has at any point so far."
On Monday, the Independent Budget Office (IBO), which is tasked with crunching numbers for City officials, issued an analysis of the Adams administration's figures and found that they are significantly overestimating the costs associated with arriving migrants—even when factoring in a scenario where the numbers of asylum seekers continue to rise.
The IBO determined that if the rate of migrant arrivals to the city were to remain the same next year as it was this last year (which is still quite high when compared to other years), the baseline budget amount would be $1.2 billion less than City Hall's estimate.
The administration has justified its high projections based in part on an expected uptick in migrants following the end of pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42. And with Title 42 ending later this week, Adams warned recently that "New York City has been left without the necessary support to manage this crisis," while Adams has said that more buses from Texas and elsewhere along the southwest border could be heading toward the city.
So the IBO also looked at how much the City would spend under a scenario where the number of asylum seekers would continue to rise, and found that the total expenditures would still fall way short of Adams's math, by a hefty $600 million.
While politicians in New York City across the political spectrum have called for increased federal and state support to the City for helping migrants, some local progressives have questioned whether City Hall has been using an inflated number to push for cuts in social services in next year's budget, and to unilaterally order cuts during round after round of emergency measures known as the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG). (As a source close to the budget negotiations told Hell Gate previously, there's speculation that Adams is using the arrival of migrants to the city as a way to blow a "supermassive black hole" in the budget.)
In a statement to Hell Gate, City Hall assailed the IBO's math—while providing no breakdown of how Adams arrived at the astronomical $4.3 billion number.
"This is not a serious estimate of the city’s skyrocketing asylum seeker costs, and is consistent with IBO's pattern of providing unrealistically low cost estimates," said Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy, elaborating that the City has to plan for a high estimate to ensure it spends within its means. Levy also pointed to previous estimates over the past year from the IBO that proved to fall short of actual City spending on migrant services. That happened in part, however, due to ill-fated ideas like housing migrants on Randall's Island or Orchard Beach, which sapped the City's coffers. After spending millions more than estimated on migrants, City Hall committed in March to streamlining its processes for welcoming migrants, with the hope that many would, shortly after arrival, no longer need City services such as housing.
In the IBO's projections, 80 percent of the City's spending on migrant services goes toward housing. Meanwhile, other critical migrant assistance programs are the victims of the very cuts that Adams is pushing. Programs like PromiseNYC, which the mayor launched last year alongside Councilmembers Tiffany Cabán and Shahana Hanif, and Comptroller Brad Lander, provided $10 million in funding to help cover childcare expenses for undocumented families.
But in next year's executive budget, the mayor has cut support for the program entirely—leaving parents without the flexibility to go to the very jobs they'll need to exit the shelter system.
“Navigating obstacles in a new city and a new country are tough, and coupling those issues with a lack of childcare can prevent parents and families from achieving the dream they so desperately set out to achieve," Adams said at the time of the program's launch last December.
On Monday, more than 20 elected officials, including three borough presidents, the comptroller, and the City's public advocate, called on City Hall in a letter to not only restore funding to PromiseNYC, but to double it.
City Hall says that it "will continue to evaluate funding requests [for PromiseNYC] through the budget process."
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Max Rivlin-Nadler is a co-publisher of Hell Gate. He's reported for Gothamist, The New York Times, Village Voice and NPR. You can find him walking his dog, Stiva, or surfing in the Rockaways.
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