By Josue Pierre
Show me your government's budget and I'll tell you what your society's values are. Instead of supporting communities like Flatbush, the mayor is proposing to cut jobs, education funding, sanitation services, and funding for housing in ways that will devastate communities on the front lines of our fight with this awful pandemic.
While fiscal discipline is important, these proposed cuts disproportionately harm neighborhoods like ours. Let's look at the hard facts of how these cuts will impact us.
- There are $231 million in cuts to the education budget, of which $100 million comes out of the Fair Schools Funding (FSF) program. FSF is a major source of funds for many schools, and it takes a 'needs based' approach to education funding. For instance, schools receive more funding per student for English Language Learners and children in need of special education services, as a way to fund our schools— and children's needs—more equitably. A significant portion of students in the 40th Council District's schools who speak languages such as Urdu, Haitian Creole, and Spanish, benefit from this funding.
- Affordable housing remains the number one concern among Flatbush Area residents. As developments continue to go up in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Area, people routinely ask, "Affordable for Whom?" Very few of the units going up meet the lower income ranges of longtime residents. The mayor's proposed $1.039 Billion cut to his own affordable housing development plan will halt construction of the lower income apartments that working class residents need. Furthermore, the budget harms low income tenants by cutting funds for preserving rent regulated apartments.
- Another $65.5 million is being cut from the MTA's Fair Fares program. This program provides a 50% discount on MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. Approximately 800,000 residents are eligible for Fair Fares, many of them in Flatbush. These are very significant discounts and the sort of critical assistance we need when we're struggling through an economic crisis, like so many of our neighbors will be soon.
- There are $80 million in cuts to sanitation services, which will mean less trash pick up and recycling. Complaints about trash along commercial corridors like Church, Flatbush, Nostrand and Coney Island Avenues are routinely raised at local community board and block association meetings. For years, residents in the 40th Council District have asked for more sanitation related services—now, the Mayor will reduce already insufficient services. What will be the impact on retail and small businesses on these avenues?
- $124 million will be cut by eliminating the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)—which employed 75,000 young people last year, most of them Black and Brown. I've taken a strong stance against this cut, and launched a petition campaign for 40th Council District residents to sign, because we know how important jobs are for youth in Flatbush. As an SYEP Alumni myself, I am STILL grateful that I got that first job, which allowed me to contribute to my family's household income while in high school.
Austerity measures like these budget cuts balance the city's budget on the backs of neighborhoods like Flatbush. These measures hurt our quality of life, contribute to displacement, and reduce the future earnings potential of our middle and working class communities, all of which contradict our societal values by placing the burden on those least able to afford it.
Instead of just trying to cut our way out of a looming deficit, I propose we look at alternative sources of revenue in addition to smart cuts. There is no path to economic recovery without raising taxes on the wealthy. Those New Yorkers with incomes of over $500,000 a year can certainly contribute more to our tax base. Our city should also overhaul its current property tax system, which disportionately burdens residents in Ditmas Park and Prospect Lefferts Gardens as a result of increases in their property values, to a more progressive structure.
And, as we move towards legalizing marijuana, tax revenues from legalization MUST go to communities that were most harmed by the War on Drugs. At a time like this, supporting communities like Flatbush through these measures rather than cuts are the steps that we should be taking.