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Melissa Mark-Viverito Headshot

The Bloomberg Administration's Double Standards on Poverty and Accountability

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As New Yorkers face the grim prospect this spring of massive budget cuts proposed by Mayor Bloomberg, a new report calls our attention to one of the populations most vulnerable to the budget axe: poor children.

Childhood poverty has increased significantly during the recent recession, according to a report released this month by the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York City. One in three City children now lives below the federal poverty level, compared to one in four just two years ago. In East Harlem, which I represent on the City Council, the number of children in poverty has grown from about 31 percent to more than 44 percent -- a shocking jump. In Mott Haven, also part of my district, 54 percent of children are impoverished.

Mayor Bloomberg has proposed new ideas to address poverty, but unfortunately, these ideas have rarely translated into real, concerted action to support our city's working families. For example, the mayor charged his Center for Economic Opportunity with re-calculating the federal poverty measure to take into account New York City's exceedingly high cost of living, but it is unclear how this new poverty measure is informing public policy and budgetary decisions.

For example, last week mayor Bloomberg vetoed the prevailing wage bill, which would have paid a fair wage to building service workers at sites subsidized or leased by the City. On April 30, the Council also passed a living wage bill, which the mayor has also vowed to veto. In a city where even the minimum wage leaves workers below the poverty line, these measures seek to support the creation of more family-sustaining jobs that will bring traditionally underpaid workers closer to financial stability and to an improved standard of living.

The mayor has supported a number of "boutique" pilot programs to help low-income New Yorkers -- to be clear, these programs are welcome -- but at the same time he is undermining more substantial efforts to fight poverty by decimating long-standing safety net programs upon which millions of people rely.

Just take a look at Bloomberg's preliminary budget. It proposes the elimination of 16,000 childcare and 32,000 after-school program slots, which help working parents stay employed and provide critical support for their children; millions in cuts to New York City public schools, which could result in a loss of over 6,000 teachers and countless programs including arts, tutoring, sports and counseling; and the slashing of $60 million in funding for youth services, including summer employment programs for young people.

Many will say that the money to support such programs isn't there. But that simply isn't true. New York City contains some of the greatest concentrations of wealth on earth. It has the largest income disparity between rich and poor of America's 25 largest cities. Moreover, the city gives away hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax breaks, subsidies and special deals to enormously wealthy banks, developers and individual millionaires and billionaires, money that could be better spent on the needs of our city's 99 percent.

What's worse is that there appears to be little to no accountability for recipients of these financial assistance packages to actually meet their job creation targets and deliver on their promises to the city. Contrast that with the level of accountability demanded of, let's say, food stamp recipients who must be fingerprinted in order to receive benefits -- a practice which has been tried in several states and abandoned everywhere except New York City and Arizona. This requirement is not a minor thing; besides being intrusive and humiliating, in some cases it presents such a burden of time and travel that people simply don't apply, don't receive the help they need, and they and their children go hungry.

And don't forget the mayor's ill-conceived attempt to require that single homeless adults "prove" their homelessness status in order to be admitted to a shelter. Luckily that policy was knocked down by the State Supreme Court.

It is clear that this administration has a double standard when it comes to accountability. Poor and working families must prove their need, at every step, in order to receive even the bare minimum of assistance. Banks and financial institutions, headed by managers with stratospheric compensations, simply hold out their hand. Bland promises to provide future jobs too often come to nothing. Many of these institutions were responsible for the financial crisis in the first place, and for the recession that has thrown so many families out of work and out of their homes.

It's now time for the city to seek compensation from these corporations rather than shredding desperately needed social programs. The city budget should not be balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable residents.