The state and city budgets contain nothing but bad news for Central Brooklyn. Nearly everything on the chopping block – teachers, housing subsidies, summer youth jobs, senior citizens centers – matters more in Central Brooklyn than most places. Even the Variable Supplement Fund, a $12,000 annual payout to retired cops and fireman as part of a deal struck in the 1960s, could be chopped, blowing a significant hole in the income of retired civil servants.
Here are the broad strokes of the problem. The fastest-rising expenses of state government are Medicaid (health care for the poor) and education. It was inevitable that these areas would take the biggest budget hits, and that is what Albany has in store: Gov. Cuomo is seeking $2.8 billion in Medicaid cuts, which will hit Central Brooklyn like a double-barreled shotgun. Not only will there be a reduction in medical services, but health workers – doctors, nurses, lab technicians, billing clerks – could lose work hours, or lose their jobs altogether.
And the fight is going to continue beyond this year. Gov. Cuomo has suggested, sensibly, that New York link increases in the Medicaid budget to some reasonable factor, like the average increase in personal income or the rise in something called the Medical Care Index, which measures health expenses.
Both numbers work out to around 4% a year. But projections suggest that the number of poor New Yorkers seeking help from Medicaid is about to increase by 5.2% to 6.4% a year for the next five years. So the mismatch between what’s needed and what the state plans to spend will continue. And the fact that Central Brooklyn has lots of impoverished sick people and lots of struggling working class health workers means our area will be Ground Zero of the coming fight.
Ditto for education: New York City, according to education officials, will lose $2 billion in education aid if Gov. Cuomo has his way. Mayor Bloomberg has already proposed layoffs of 4,666 teachers, with another 1,300 subject to attrition, meaning they will not be pushed out the door, but also won’t be replaced if they quit or retire.
Central Brooklyn, already dealing with overcrowded classrooms and troubled schools, will have a harder time turning things around with fewer teachers. And, again, there’s the employment question: for generations, teachers have been a source of stability in the neighborhood, holding decent-paying jobs that enabled them to become homeowners, taxpayers and community leaders.
That’s all subject to change now.
The likely hit to social services will, of course, also be a source of great distress. During the press conference immediately following the release of Mayor Bloomberg’s executive budget, a reporter asked about planned cuts to the Administration for Children’s Services, which runs day care centers that serve low-income families.
The mayor’s response was a suggestion that some of the slack could be picked up by having kids attend day care at city schools. That’s right – the same city schools that are about to lose more teachers than at any time since the 1970s.
We’re at the start of a titanic battle over resources that will, sooner or later, include loud demands for an increase in the income tax on wealthy New Yorkers. We’ll soon know whether Central Brooklyn will face the worst-case scenario or some lesser version of pain. Either way, it’s going to hurt.