Nonprofit Newswire | Thin Gruel for N.Y. Soup Kitchens

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March 8, 2010; City Limits | Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget for the city of New York contains a bevy of budget cuts that dwarf those of many states, though New York City has the double disaster of its own budget shortfalls and the paralysis occurring at the state legislature in the stand-off between non-candidate Governor David Paterson and the state’s famously dysfunctional states senate and assembly.

According to City Limits magazine, the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program was severely cut last year at the state level, and the Governor has proposed additional cuts for mid-year FY2010. The Mayor has now announced that if the Governor cuts money from the program, he will completely eliminate the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program which provided $10 million last year to soup kitchens and food pantries in the city.

The impact on nonprofit food providers will be devastating if the Mayor and Governor succeed in their one-two budget punches. The director of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger says that the combined cuts will cost her program one quarter of the 825,000 meals the organization provided in 2009.

Maybe this time the worst of the cuts will be reduced by a one-time infusion of stimulus money for the state’s food banks, but the director of Brownsville’s Neighbors Together, one of the city’s largest soup kitchens, warns that the stimulus money is only a one-year’s delay of the inevitable.

The Governor is also proposing the elimination of a variety of workforce development programs, including the Careers Pathway program and wage subsidies for employers who hire new workers, and the Summer Youth Employment Program is also facing big cuts. The result would be a 2/3 cut in summer youth jobs in the city.

The Mayor has proposed, in response, cuts in the City’s own job programs, including the elimination of the BEGIN job skills program and cuts in about half of the six-month transitional job slots in the Parks Opportunity Program.

For nonprofits—and for the public—the question is how much of the Governor vs. Mayor dynamic is a game and how much is real. New York is famous for city/state budget scrums. The Mayor is obviously threatening deep cuts if the state makes its own deep cuts in critical programs.

A representative of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies suggests that this could be “a game of chicken with no winners.” That actually describes the budget dynamic in states and localities across the country, not just the New York City and State budget impasse.—Rick Cohen