In February 2019 the City of New York released its FY20 Preliminary Budget Departmental Estimates and other financial reports such as the Citywide Savings Program, and the Register of Community Board Budget Requests (with City Agency responses in February). While City Council and Borough Presidents also have funds, that they can allocate for projects commonly addressed at district or borough needs, the City’s expense budget – which includes annual expenses such as salaries and supplies, and capital budget – which guides investment in infrastructure and equipment lasting multiple years – are essential tools through which the city shapes food systems and policy. So, what do these preliminary FY20 City budget documents tell us about the City’s urban food system and the city agencies that govern it? We took a closer look at some of the numbers and here is what we found.
The NYC Budget Process
Citywide Savings Program
In collaboration with other City agencies, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) devises the Citywide Savings Program which assesses current city expenses, policies, and practices and seeks to optimize the use of resources, minimize excess, and mitigate future costs. The City distinguishes between savings that are “efficiencies” and other savings. Efficiencies are reductions of the City’s present or prospective expenses which do not result in reduction of service. Some of the food-related items in the FY20 Preliminary Budget City Savings Program include School Food Surplus (Savings due to expansion of universal lunch), School Food Revenue (from expanded participation in CEP food program for FY20 and 21), DOHMH Food and Incentives, and Additional Composting Revenue (from composting waste sales). The table below shows the dollar amounts for each of these savings. Importantly, none of these items are labeled as efficiencies, meaning that the City acknowledges that their reduction will result in sacrificing service delivery for New Yorkers.
The DOE figures show that, as schools invest in improving meals and nutrition services, taxpayers and the city are getting more for their money. It is important to note, however, that the savings estimates assume increased participation in the universal free school lunch program, which may require further investments and changes to how lunch is delivered – types of meals, time of the day lunch is served, and school cafeteria environment which influences participation and the school lunch experience. DOHMH savings pertaining to food and incentives expenditures instead indicate an opportunity to better evaluate the effectiveness of successful city programs like Health Bucks. Part of these savings may also be attributed to the federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant the Department was awarded to expand and evaluate Health Bucks.
The City’s Departmental Estimates are directly linked to the Preliminary Budget for FY20 and are required by Sections 100 and 231 of the City Charter. The estimates feature the supporting schedules to the expense appropriations and revenue estimates and help the City achieve a balanced budget. Looking through the departmental estimates can reveal interesting changes of food-related financial resources. As shown in the chart below, based on the increase/decrease estimates provided in the report, Departments that lose part of their food-related resources compared to FY19 include the Department of Social Services (DSS/HRA), the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), and the Department for the Aging (DFTA). Some of the specific food initiatives for which the FY20 Preliminary Budget indicates a decrease in funding include: Access to Healthy Food and Nutritional Education (-$1.055 million), which includes restorations for EBTs in Farmers’ Markets (DYCD); Food Access and Benefits Initiative (HRA) (-$725,000); food pantries (DYCD) (-$4.6 million); and Halal and Kosher School Lunch Pilot (DCAS) (-$1.0 million).
Conversely, Departments that gain food-related financial resources in FY20 compared to FY19 include the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Correction. The budget estimates show no gains or reductions in funding for the Department of Small Business Services and the Administration for Children’s Services.
Community Board Capital Budget Priorities and Requests
Community Boards constitute a key component of New York City’s local governance system. There are 59 local Community Boards (CB) each comprised of up to 50 community board members appointed by the Borough President. Every year in September Community Boards hold public hearings and release their capital budget priorities and request to the Borough Presidents and the City Mayor. The report that summarizes these priorities and requests, as well as each Agency’s response to the request, can be searched for keywords (e.g., food, meals, SNAP, nutrition, waste, compost, etc.) to learn about various community-board level requests related to food systems and food policy. Tracking these requests, and whether they are fulfilled, is an important task for food advocates.
As shown in the figure below, for FY20, approximately 3/4 of the total food-related budget requests and priorities expressed by Community Broads were addressed to about 1/3 of City Agencies. The agencies that make up this group and who received the highest number of food-related requests are the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the Department for the Ageing (DFTA), Department of Education (DOE), and the Human Resources Administration (HRA). Looking at the data by Borough, the report reveals the Borough of Brooklyn alone makes up more than 40% of the Community Board food-related requests, followed by Manhattan (21%), Bronx (19%), Queens (13%), and Staten Island (4%). Lastly, by classifying the requests in subcategories, it emerges that over 80% of the requests expressed for FY20 focus on food security – nearly half (47%), and nutrition education (34%).
For instance, Bronx CB 12 requested that the City provide, expand, or enhance food assistance, such as Food Stamps / SNAP, Manhattan CB 7 requested the HRA to prioritize services for vulnerable New Yorkers – including through support for faith based food pantries and community kitchens, Queens CB 3 expressed need for increased restaurant inspections by DOHMH, whereas Bronx CB 8 urged Department of Sanitation to provide funding for organic composting education outreach.
We would like to thank CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute Dietetic Intern Suji Jung for her assistance in retrieving and compiling part of the information included in this fact sheet.
By Rositsa T. Ilieva