New York City’s unemployed, poor and middle-class residents will receive more than $25 billion in direct aid over the coming months from the $1.9 trillion federal aid bill President Joe Biden is expected to sign this week.
Stimulus checks worth $1,400 a person are headed to 4.5 million city taxpayers. Meanwhile, New Yorkers also will get help via extended unemployment benefits and an expansion of the child tax credit that will cover 93% of kids nationwide — sending monthly checks to parents.
Overall, the measure, approved by the Senate on Saturday and expected to be voted on Wednesday in the House, would send $100 billion to New York State. The funds would help tenants and homeowners pay rent and mortgages, bail out state, city and MTA budgets, bolster the coronavirus vaccine rollout — and inject cash into theaters, restaurants and other businesses decimated by the pandemic.
“I can’t think of legislation that has been more important to New York in decades. This may even be more important than the $20 billion we got after Sept. 11 and the $60 billion we got after Sandy hit us so hard,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Sunday. “I say to beleaguered New Yorkers, help is on the way.”
Still, political maneuvering over the money appears likely.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reeling from scandals over sexual harassment allegations and his handling of nursing home deaths, said Sunday the $12.6 billion the state will receive in direct aid is not enough to rule out tax increases on the wealthy because of the damage the pandemic has done to the state.
Fiscal experts who oppose a tax increase say he understated the amount of help the state is receiving or needs. Further taxing the rich is popular among progressive lawmakers who note that many New Yorkers are suffering as Wall Street booms.
Schumer’s announcement buoyed the spirits of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who even before the additional aid had outlined a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.
“This now supercharges our recovery,” de Blasio said Monday. “This is the thing we needed.”
‘It Is Revolutionary’
The two biggest infusions of cash will come in unemployment benefits and the stimulus payments available to individuals making less than $75,000 and couples pulling in under $160,000. In all, about $11 billion in stimulus checks are in the works for city residents.
Nearly 1.3 million New York City residents are unemployed. The bill will extend until Sept. 6 a $300-a-week supplement to the amount based on past wages, up to $515 a week. The measure preserves until the same date the jobless benefit for contractors, freelancers and gig economy workers as well as extending benefits for anyone who has exhausted their eligibility. The total amount is about $12 billion.
The bill provides another $1 billion statewide for rental assistance and $575 million to help people pay mortgages and utility bills. The state hasn’t yet distributed $1.3 billion in rental aid it received in the stimulus bill passed in late December.
The state Senate’s Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development put the statewide amount of unpaid rent recently at $2.2 billion. New Yorkers owe $1.8 billion in unpaid utility bills, with an average debt of more than $900, according to an estimate by Arcadia, a technology company that connects renters and homeowners across the U.S. to wind and solar energy through their utility accounts.
The change in the child tax credit may be the provision of the Biden bill that ends up being the most important long-term. It would increase for this year a tax credit to $3,600 for children up to age 6 and to $3,000 for children up to 18 — and makes it fully refundable.
The result will be a monthly payment of $300 for every young child and $250 for older children, and will cover 93% of youths in the country.
“It is revolutionary and the greatest progressive policy achievement since the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx).
By making the payment monthly and payable in advance, it establishes a guaranteed basic income for people with children.
Torres is the co-sponsor of a bill that would make the expanded tax credit permanent.
He said he expects Democrats will move another bill later this year that uses the reconciliation method to bypass the Senate filibuster and will work to include a permanent extension.
Biden has endorsed the proposal for a permanent expansion and Torres notes “there is no opposition to this.”
Cuomo Accused of Fuzzy Math
Cuomo’s Sunday statement that the $12.6 billion coming to the state was inadequate failed to acknowledge that the state will also receive $9 billion for K-12 schools and $2.6 billion for colleges and universities. K-12 spending accounts for one-fifth of the state budget.
Meanwhile, his administration agreed earlier this month that tax revenue estimates can be increased by $2.5 billion for the 2022 fiscal year that begins April 1 and the 2023 fiscal year.
E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center said the bottom line is that the added revenues alone mean that the state can fill the holes in the budget — and boost spending by 3%, more than the 2% hike Cuomo has limited increases to in previous years, without tapping federal aid.
“This level of aid will allow the state to restore spending cuts and balance its budget through fiscal year 2023 even without increasing personal income taxes or delaying the middle-class tax cut,” said Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission.
The mayor wouldn’t be specific Monday about the impact on the city budget, but he promised details soon.
“We’ll be talking about it more in the days ahead as we wait, of course, for it to be 100% signed, sealed and delivered with the president’s signature,” he said.