Category Archives: Federal and State Aid

Sandy’s Aftermath: How Much Federal Aid Can the City Expect?

Posted by Doug Turetsky, November 8, 2012

In the decade since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, New York City has faced several other disasters that drew federal aid, such as last year’s Tropical Storm Irene and the blizzard and tornadoes of 2010. As IBO’s George Sweeting points out, the city received federal aid for a far wider range of uses in the aftermath of 9/11 than it did following the weather-related events.

While Hurricane Sandy shares the climatic origins of Irene, the blizzard, and tornadoes, the extent of the physical devastation is more akin to 9/11. The number of lives lost due to Sandy, while tragic, paled in comparison to the World Trade Center attacks. But the widespread devastation in the wake of Sandy —from large swaths of Staten Island to the Rockaways to Coney Island, and once again, Lower Manhattan—has a price tag that puts it in a league with 9/11. Moody’s Analytics has estimated a cost of $12 billion for the New York City area.

[UPDATE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimated today that losses due to Hurricane Sandy could total $33 billion in New York State.]

The question for the coming days and weeks for New York City and other hard-hit areas is: Will federal disaster relief have the more limited scope of the typical response after a serious storm or will Washington respond with much broader types of aid as it did following 9/11?

Federal aid in the wake of storms usually has one fundamental component: emergency response and recovery. This immediate assistance may include rescue effort; emergency food and shelter; low-interest loans to residents and small businesses; unemployment payments; the cleanup of debris; and repair of damaged infrastructure such as roads, buildings, equipment, parks, and utilities. The $20.5 billion in aid provided after the attacks on the World Trade Center featured two other significant components: assistance for additional rebuilding and development and substantial budget relief for the city to make up for expectations of lost tax revenues.

The aid for rebuilding and development after 9/11 was substantial, totaling $11.3 billion in direct assistance and tax breaks. A large portion of this was dedicated to transportation projects such as the approximately $4 billion World Trade Center Transportation Hub and $530 million for the now Sandy-flooded South Ferry subway station. For a more detailed look at World Trade Center-related aid, see this IBO report. Washington also authorized lower-cost financing for development projects through the creation of tax-exempt Liberty Bonds estimated to cost the federal government $1.2 billion in foregone tax revenue. The use of these bonds became controversial as some were directed towards projects such as the new Goldman Sachs office downtown as well as the Bank of America building in midtown and the Bank of New York tower in Brooklyn. Good Jobs New York, a nonprofit that monitors local economic development deals, has already raised concerns about how decisions will be made if wide-ranging rebuilding aid comes the city’s way as part of Sandy relief.

Post-9/11 assistance also included nearly $2 billion in budget aid mostly for the city (a portion of this amount was for the state). About half of this aid came through a provision that allowed the city to refinance some of its tax-exempt bonds and as a result reduce its spending on debt service. The other half materialized when expenditures for the initial emergency response and cleanup turned out not to cost as much as expected; the city just got to keep the money.

Federal aid following the September 2010 tornadoes was typical of the sorts of aid that follow natural disasters. The cost of cleaning up and repairing the damage from the storm was $21.2 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $10.8 million, the state $1.8 million. The rest was on the city’s dime. That was also the year of the blizzard that paralyzed the city in the days after Christmas. Washington only provided some disaster aid to cover costs in Staten Island. Coupled with the costs of several other big storms, the city spent more than $100 million that fiscal year on snow removal and related road repairs, the vast majority at our expense. For more details on weather-related costs in fiscal year 2011, see this report, pg 49. Damage from last year’s Tropical Storm Irene cost the city about $55 million, with 90 percent of the expenses eligible for federal reimbursement.

With the dust still settling from Tuesday’s election, it remains to be seen how extensive federal aid for Sandy will be. A $12 billion proposal to supplement federal disaster cleanup and recovery funds has been introduced in the House, but the Senate appears to be waiting for updated estimates on the extent of the damage before it acts. Neither the House nor the Senate seems to be discussing the kind of broader aid that followed 9/11.

President’s Plan Could Cut Millions in Antipoverty Aid for City’s Poorest Neighborhoods

Posted by Nashla Rivas Salas and Doug Turetsky, April 28, 2011

There aren’t many government programs that pump millions of dollars into some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and give residents of those neighborhoods a say in how that money is spent. The Community Services Block Grant, a program whose lineage dates back to the 1960s and President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, is a clear exception. But now President Barack Obama, a former community organizer, wants to cut the block grant’s funding in half in next year’s federal budget.

In federal fiscal years 2009 and 2010 the nationwide allocation for the Community Services Block Grant was $700 million. The initial allocation for the current year was also $700 million, but was cut by $20 million in the recent Capitol Hill budget deal that averted a government shutdown. The President’s budget proposal for 2012 seeks only $350 million for the block grant program.

Over the past seven years, New York City has received upwards of $30 million annually through the block grant. The city’s share comes via the state, which determines how much will go to eligible localities. (The state can peel off up to 10 percent of the statewide allocation for administration and oversight.) The city’s allocation this city fiscal year is nearly $32 million. About 30,000 New Yorkers, from youth to seniors, benefit from programs run by service providers funded by the block grant.

The city divvies up the federal dollars geographically based on areas of each borough with high concentrations of poverty. In these so-called Neighborhood Development Areas, at least 30 percent of the residents have incomes below poverty level. There are 43 Neighborhood Development Areas in the city: 12 in the Bronx, 17 in Brooklyn, six in Manhattan, seven in Queens, and one in Staten Island (maps).

Each Neighborhood Development Area receives an allocation based on its share of residents living in poverty. This year, the largest allocation, about $750,000, goes to Brooklyn 12, which includes parts of Sunset Park, Borough Park and other neighborhoods. The next largest allocation, about $740,000, goes to Manhattan 12 (Washington Heights, West Harlem). In the Bronx, the largest allocations, which total about $625,000 each, go to Bronx areas 4 and 5 (Highbridge, Morris Heights, Mount Hope). In Queens the largest allocation is about $485,000 and goes to Queens 12 (South Jamaica, Richmond Hill). Staten Island’s allocation is about $230,000.

Giving community residents a say in how the money is spent was a hallmark of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, the forerunner of the current block grant program. The original act promoted “maximum feasible participation,” and directed money to organizations that sought to empower local residents in efforts to end poverty. When the program was recast as a block grant in 1981, the notion of local participation continued.

The city’s Department of Youth and Community Development serves as what is known as a Community Action Agency. Although final determinations are up to the city agency, there’s a board comprised of low-income residents, elected officials or their representatives, and other New Yorkers that participates in decisions about the kinds of antipoverty activities that can be funded with block grant dollars and the groups selected to provide the services. There are now nine types of services ranging from health initiatives to support services for immigrants to adult literacy eligible for block grant funds.

Each Neighborhood Development Area has its own advisory board that prioritizes the eligible services within its boundaries. The neighborhood boards include up to 12 members who live in the community, six of them selected by the city agency and the other six by local elected officials. Each development area’s block grant funding is then allocated based on the priorities set by the advisory board, which solicits public input at community meetings. In Brooklyn 12, for example, the top ranked needs are housing assistance and services for seniors. Queens 12 splits the top allocation among programs aimed at middle school and high school students and services to promote family health.

Community participation is no guarantee that funding will go to the most effective programs. A June 2006 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found shortcomings in the states’ monitoring of the groups receiving community services funding.

Part of President Obama’s agenda for the block grant is to address concerns about the effectiveness of programs funded with community services dollars. To do this he proposes creating competition for the allocations among Community Action Agencies. This would be a big departure from current practice, which distributes funds to states based on their share of dollars when the original program was turned into a block grant in 1981. This change, along with the President’s plan to slice community services funding in half, means New York could lose a substantial amount of federal funds for some of the poorest areas in the city—at a time when state and local resources for these communities are already strained.

Note: Nashla Rivas Salas was a member of Neighborhood Advisory Board Queens 3 and Doug Turetsky served as the Manhattan Borough President’s representative to the citywide Community Action Agency board.

NYCHA Plans to Federalize 21 City and State Developments

Posted by Kerry Spitzer, March 9, 2010

Every year the same story is told during the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) City Council budget hearings: There is a multimillion dollar budget gap in NYCHA’s operating budget, due primarily to the fact that neither the city nor the state provide operating funding for the 21 developments they built between 1949 and 1978. Because the city and state do not provide funds to independently support these developments, the federal funds intended to cover the 315 federal developments are being stretched to cover the costs to maintain all of NYCHA’s developments. According to NYCHA, the fact that these 21 developments have no dedicated support is responsible for $90 million of NYCHA’s annual operating deficit, which is projected to be $137.1 million in 2010. In addition, the developments are missing out on $20 million in capital financing that they would receive were they federal developments.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act raised the possibility of ending this storyline for good. Through a onetime exemption to the Faircloth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from creating any new federally subsidized public housing, it will allow NYCHA to “federalize” the 21 orphan developments. To take advantage of this opportunity, NYCHA has developed what is called a Mixed-Finance Moderation plan. Under the plan, the 21 developments (which contain 20,143 apartments) will be sold to two non-profit affiliates, in which NYCHA will have a controlling interest. Stimulus money, bonds, loans and low-income housing tax credits that will leverage private funds will finance the purchase and rehabilitation of the developments. NYCHA will continue to own the land on which the developments are located and will continue to manage the apartments. Residents will continue to have the same rights and will not be displaced. While the lifting of the Faircloth Amendment restrictions will allow public housing authorities around the country to pursue similar plans the scale of the NYCHA plan is unprecedented.

For this plan to be realized, all of the needed funds must be obligated and the Mixed-Finance transaction must be completed by March 17, 2010. All stimulus-funded rehabilitation work must be completed by March 2012. The gears are in motion to make the plan a reality. According to NYCHA, the majority of the funds for the rehabilitation work have already been committed and the city’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has approved selling $535 million of tax-exempt and taxable bonds to finance the deal. As early as this week HDC plans to market a portion of the bonds. Furthermore, the state Assembly and Senate have approved the plan, and late last week Governor Paterson signed the bill. The deal needs approval of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Lastly, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will need to issue final approval. NYCHA and the Bloomberg Administration are optimistic that the necessary approvals will be obtained in time for the deal to go forward.

The plan will benefit NYCHA by providing ongoing federal operating support for all of its developments. NYCHA anticipates that as early as October 2010 it will begin receiving the additional federal support. Under the plan, NYCHA anticipates receiving at least $65 million in new federal operating and capital subsidy over the course of federal fiscal year 2011, and hopes that when the plan is fully implemented it will receive $75 million to $100 million annually. Even though federal support for public housing is subject to appropriation risk, these funds are formula based and would be a much steadier source of revenue than the city or state. The private partners will benefit by obtaining Community Reinvestment Act Credits and tax credits.

While these funds will go a long way towards stabilizing NYCHA’s budget, the agency will continue to face operating and capital deficits. NYCHA’s Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2010 projected an operating deficit of $137.1 million in 2010 and noted that the capital funds it has on hand are not sufficient to meet the ongoing needs of the aging developments. NYCHA expects that the additional funds will greatly reduce, but not eliminate, their operating deficits; nor will they be enough to fill the gap between the capital needs and resources of NYCHA. Federalization, if it is implemented as planned, will very much improve the financial stability of NYCHA, but it is not a silver bullet and more will need to be done to further stabilize NYCHA’s finances.

City’s Capital Plan Grows: More Projects, Some More Spending

Posted by Ana M. Ventura, November 9, 2009

A number of fiscal mavens have voiced concerns in recent months that the city’s capital budget is too big and unaffordable. These concerns have not escaped the notice of Mayor Bloomberg, who has sought to reduce the amount the city spends on debt service—the interest and principal the city pays to borrow money for capital projects such as building schools, fixing roads, and buying fire trucks—by scaling back the city’s 10-year capital plan.

So it may come as a surprise to many observers that the city’s latest Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, which covers four years, has grown by hundreds of projects and millions of dollars. The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, released in September, presents information on how much the city has appropriated in the current fiscal year and next three years for capital projects and a timeline for committing those project funds. This latest plan adds $708 million (adjusted for capital funds made available in 2009 but now pushed into the new plan) and nearly 700 capital projects, compared to the prior plan released in conjunction with the Mayor’s Executive Budget last spring. As in past years, the largest shares of capital funding go to school and environmental projects.

The city’s four-year capital plan allocates $38.4 billion for projects. Included in the plan total is $1.5 billion allocated at the request of the City Council and $680 million by the Borough Presidents. Roughly 80 percent of the funding comes from the city, with the remaining $7.8 billion coming from federal, state, and private grants.

These funds support nearly 7,400 projects (including school projects that are itemized separately in the city’s financial management system). The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan includes 941 new capital projects and drops 244 projects that were part of the prior plan. The new projects include 390 sponsored by the City Council and 108 sponsored by the Borough Presidents. Out of all the new projects certain types were among those most commonly added: there are 123 new citywide equipment purchases and 101 new parks and recreational facilities projects.

Nearly half of the plan’s total budget—$19.0 billion—is scheduled to be committed in fiscal year 2010. The rest of the funds are expected to be committed over the next three years: $6.9 billion in fiscal year 2011, $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2012, and $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2013. While the total for 2010 appears comparatively large, it is actually bulked up by previously authorized funds. Because some types of capital projects frequently fall behind schedule, the level of funds authorized by the Mayor’s budget office typically exceeds the expected commitments by about 35 percent.

Roughly $7.1 billion in capital funds were transferred, or rolled, from fiscal year 2009 into the new plan. Most capital funds rolled from a prior fiscal year tend to be allocated to the next year, as is the case under the new plan. But some of the funds rolled forward are also allocated to later years of the Capital Commitment Plan. Largely because of the funds rolled forward from 2009, the new plan is roughly 25 percent bigger than the prior $30.6 billion four-year plan.

But if you subtract the rollover funds, the latest plan still provides $708 million more (2.3 percent) than the prior plan. Almost all of this increase comes from additional city funding; about 1 percent of the $708 million comes from other sources.

Despite challenging economic times and recent actions by the Bloomberg Administration to curtail long-term city-funded capital spending, the city’s capital program continues to expand moderately.

City’s Food Stamp Enrollment Surges

Posted by Paul Lopatto, October 22, 2009

Earlier this week it was widely reported that the number of homeless families had hit a record high in the city. Less noticed has been another record increase: As of August there were nearly 1.6 million New Yorkers on the food stamp rolls.

The rapid increase in food stamp enrollment began in early 2008, following years of relatively slow growth. From January 2008 through August 2009 food stamp enrollment increased by 354,000 persons, expanding the caseload by nearly 30 percent. Based on the current average monthly grant, the increase of food stamp recipients over the same period should result in about $680 million annually in additional federal assistance to low-income city residents, a level that’s juiced by the increase in benefits under the stimulus act.

While food stamp enrollment has fluctuated significantly over the last few decades, the pace of growth over the last year and a half has been unmatched since the early years of the program in the 1970s. It is likely that some of this growth can be attributed to policy initiatives by both city and state officials to increase the share of eligible people who enroll in the program.

At the city level, the application has been shortened and the hours of operation at some food stamp offices has been lengthened. As part of a statewide initiative the city’s Human Resources Administration has also been implementing new systems that make better use of information technology to allow for off-site electronic filing of applications and supporting documents, and recertification of some cases over the phone. In 2008 the social services agency also performed a data match to identify Medicaid recipients who might be eligible for food stamps but never applied, and then did a targeted outreach campaign to encourage them to fill out applications.

While these outreach efforts and initiatives to ease the application process helped boost enrollment, the extensive job losses and resultant income decreases experienced by large numbers of New Yorkers over the last year have significantly increased the pool of people who are eligible for assistance. Evidence from previous economic downturns, as detailed in IBO’s 2008 report Most Food Stamp Recipients No Longer Also Welfare Recipients, suggests that further labor market declines are likely to lead to continued growth in the food stamp caseload. Comparisons with prior recessions, however, serve to highlight the unprecedented magnitude of the recent caseload increases. Monthly food stamp enrollment growth since September 2008 has occurred at three times the rate seen in the last downturn that began in 2001.

The combined effects of the more user-friendly policies and rising economic distress have pushed the city’s food stamp caseload beyond its previous peak of 1.46 million people in April 1995. But current recipients differ from their earlier counterparts in one important respect. In 1995 nearly 80 percent of food stamp recipients also received public assistance; today only about one-quarter also receive welfare benefits.

This separation of food stamps from public assistance began with the implementation of welfare reform policies in the mid-1990s and has continued since. Recent caseload numbers offer further confirmation of the severing of these programs. From September 2008 through August 2009, with the local job market faltering, the number of city residents receiving food stamps increased by 258,000 or 20 percent while the public assistance caseload increased by only 13,000 or 4 percent. This suggests that while negative public attitudes and restrictive government policies toward welfare persist, food stamps have become an increasingly acceptable form of low-income assistance.

This trend is not unique to New York; federal statistics indicate that the divergence of these two key income support programs is progressing on a nationwide basis. From January 2008 to July 2009 food stamp enrollment increased by 29 percent to a record high 35.9 million recipients. While federal welfare caseload numbers are not yet available for 2009, the data indicate that during 2008, with the national recession underway, the number of food stamp recipients increased by 15 percent compared to only 4 percent for public assistance. Although high levels of unemployment could eventually lead to a more rapid movement of out-of-work people onto the welfare rolls, the delinking of food stamps and welfare is likely to persist.

Another Hole in the Budget Plan

Posted by Eldar Beiseitov, April 27, 2009

While the Mayor has focused much attention in recent weeks on the municipal unions’ reluctance to agree to more than $700 million in savings outlined in the Preliminary Budget, there’s another big hole to fill in the budget plan. Piggy-backing on proposals made by Governor David Paterson, the Bloomberg Administration’s Preliminary Budget included plans to eliminate the city’s current sales tax exemption on clothing and shoes costing less than $500 and to extend the sales tax to a variety of goods and services that aren’t now taxed. But with much of this falling by the wayside in the state budget, the city may well be down nearly $600 million in new tax revenue the Mayor had expected.

The state budget adopted late last month extended the state’s sales tax to certain types of transportation, such as taxis and limousines. But it didn’t incorporate the Governor’s original proposals to extend the state sales tax to digital goods, entertainment-spending, cable TV, capital improvement construction work, non-diet soft drinks, and other items. Nor did it alter the existing state sales-tax exemption for clothing purchases under $110 that had been proposed.

Since the types of goods and services subject to city sales tax generally follow the state, the Mayor is likely to limit his base-broadening proposals to what already passed in Albany. Consequently, instead of being worth nearly $200 million, as the Mayor estimated in January, the reduced list would generate a more modest $23 million in revenues in 2010.

With the state also abandoning repeal of the clothing exemption, city retailers would be placed at a competitive disadvantage with suburban retailers if the exemption were ended for the city portion of the tax. So the Bloomberg Administration may well jettison this portion of its plan as well—along with the nearly $400 million in additional revenue the Mayor had expected from it.

The Mayor has also proposed increasing the city’s sales tax from 4.0 to 4.25 percent. He estimated in the Preliminary Budget that the increase would be worth about $300 million in new revenue in 2010. Given fiscal realities, the Mayor is likely to hang on to that proposal in the Executive Budget to be released later this week.

The sales tax rate increase, which requires approval by the state Legislature, is a common move in fiscally turbulent times. New York, like other cities, often looks to sales tax rate increases when revenues are falling because they are relatively straightforward to implement quickly and usually generate less outrage from taxpayers because they pay it in small amounts with each purchase rather than a lump sum as with property taxes.

But sales taxes tend to be regressive because purchases take up a larger share of income for less affluent households. For example, data from the 2007 U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey indicate that a household with an income of roughly $35,000 spent about 46 percent of it on taxable purchases, while a household with about $125,000 in income spent just 30 percent. As a result, a 0.25 percentage point tax increase would cost the lower-income household $40 a year, but cost the higher-income household—which has over three times the income—only $93 a year.

Even with the revenue previously expected from these various sales tax increases, IBO projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the Mayor’s 2010 budget. With another $600 million hole to fill, New Yorkers can expect more revenue raisers and service cuts in the Mayor’s upcoming budget plan.

Despite Fare Hike and Service Cuts, MTA Budget May Soon Derail Again

Posted by Alan Treffeisen, March 30, 2009

Facing a nearly $1 billion operating budget hole this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board decided last week to hike mass transit fares and raise tolls on the agency’s bridges and tunnels. The MTA board also approved an array of subway and bus service cuts.

As the MTA’s customers are threatened with the prospect of paying more for less, some may be unaware that the authority’s current financial plan assumes there will be a further fare and toll hike in 2011. Worse, even with the two sets of fare and toll increases, the MTA still must cope with substantial operating budget gaps after this year: almost $300 million in 2010, over $400 million in 2011, and over $600 million in 2012.

Compounding the bad news even further is the fact that so far this year, the MTA’s receipts from real estate-related taxes dedicated to the agency have been less than half the levels projected in the current financial plan. This raises the possibility that the modest $49 million surplus now projected for 2009 could turn into a deficit, requiring further budget-balancing measures this year.

Some of the MTA’s revenue streams, in particular the transfer taxes, are notoriously difficult to forecast. A strong economic recovery in 2010 could increase tax revenues enough to erase the MTA’s operating budget deficit.

Regardless of what happens to its operating budget, the MTA would still face the challenge of funding its 2010-2014 capital program for expansion projects such as the 2nd Avenue line and East Side Access, renovating subway stations, repairing signals and rails, buying new trains and buses, and other improvements needed to keep mass transit moving. While substantial federal funding can be expected (over one third of the $24 billion 2005-2009 capital program is funded by the federal government), the MTA will likely have to finance the bulk of the program with its own resources.

Due to a debt restructuring in the early part of this decade, the MTA’s ability to issue additional bonds backed by existing revenue streams is severely limited. The Ravitch Commission proposals for tolling the Harlem and East River bridges and levying a new regional payroll tax would have allowed the MTA to support future capital improvements through the issuance of bonds backed by these revenue sources. Regardless of whether the legislature in Albany ultimately crafts a “rescue” package to roll back some of the announced fare hikes and service cuts, an important consideration will be whether or not the plan addresses the gap in funding for the MTA’s capital needs.

Senate Bill Not So Stimulating for Public Schools?

Posted by George Sweeting, February 9, 2009

One of the most eye-popping numbers in the Mayor’s budget presentation last month was the threat of 14,000 teacher layoffs. Unless the state restores school aid that the Governor has proposed cutting to help solve Albany’s own budget woes, the Mayor said the teachers would have to go. The Mayor’s real point to state lawmakers may have been in the context of the federal stimulus bill: pass along our fair share of any assistance the state receives from the bill that’s intended to avoid cuts in local education aid.

This gambit got a lot dicier over the weekend as it emerged that the single biggest change in the Senate leadership’s compromise with Senate moderates was scaling back money to help states maintain their local school aid. Helping states and local school districts cope with sharp declines in tax revenues by providing temporary federal aid helps to avoid layoffs and cutbacks in local school district spending, which would worsen the economic contraction.

The deal, which awaits passage by the full Senate and then reconciliation with the House bill, cuts the state fiscal stabilization fund essentially in half, from $79 billion to $39 billion. Assuming this smaller stabilization amount is maintained, the state will receive less and in turn would have less available to restore the school aid cut to the city. If the Mayor sticks to his guns and does not come up with city dollars to make up the shortfall, the possibility of teacher layoffs may be more real than many observers had assumed.

In December, the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal for the upcoming state fiscal year called for cuts in education aid to local school districts, including postponing increases that had been promised as part of the resolution to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. The Bloomberg Administration has estimated that the change amounts to a loss of $771 million in anticipated state aid for the Department of Education.

The stimulus bill that emerged from the House in late January included the $79 billion fiscal stabilization fund along with language that directed states to send much of their stabilization money on to local school districts using each state’s existing school aid formula. Analysis of the House bill by the Congressional Research Service indicated that New York State could expect to receive nearly $2 billion in stabilization aid which—assuming it was distributed according to current state aid formulas—might have brought the city nearly $800 million, almost exactly offsetting the Governor’s proposed cut.

An earlier version of the Senate bill still had a $79 billion stabilization fund, but was less clear as to how the states should distribute the proceeds to local school districts. That lack of certainty may have been what led the Mayor to make it clear that he expected New York State to distribute the anticipated federal dollars under the current state formula—or 14,000 city teachers could get the axe. Arguing that the city didn’t have enough of its own funds to plug the $771 million hole in state school aid, Mayor Bloomberg was placing the responsibility for avoiding the layoffs on Albany’s doorstep.

With the possibility that the stimulus bill may contain less than half the aid to states than what was expected last week, it may be harder for Albany to fully restore the education aid to the city even if the federal dollars are distributed by current state formula. This raises the possibility that the Mayor’s bluff would be called and he, the City Council, and the schools could be confronting the layoff of thousands of teachers.

Federal Stimulus and Medicaid: How Big a Savings for the City?

Posted by J.W. Mason, January 16, 2009

As many Capitol Hill watchers expected, the latest version of a federal stimulus bill from the House includes significant assistance to state and local government. Some of the aid would come from Washington picking up a bigger share of Medicaid costs, just as it did temporarily in the wake of September 11.

The details of the bill probably will not be available for several weeks. But it’s expected that some key provisions of the new bill will resemble those in H.R. 7110, a federal stimulus bill passed by the House in October 2008, which also included language increasing the federal Medicaid share. So the earlier bill still serves as a good indicator of how much in Medicaid savings—a nearly $6 billion a year expense in the city’s budget—New York may be able to expect.

Currently, the share of a state’s Medicaid costs covered by the federal government, called the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage or FMAP, is based on mean state income, with higher-income states getting a lower federal share of Medicaid spending than poorer ones. (This formula is sometimes criticized for focusing on average incomes rather than the fraction of low-income residents.) FMAPs range from 50 percent to 75.84 percent; New York is one of a number of states with 50 percent. The 2008 stimulus bill would leave this basic structure in place but increase the FMAP by 1, 2, or 4 percentage points depending on various economic trends. In the absence of a major improvement in the state economy, New York would meet the criteria for the full 4 percentage point increase. So, federal payments would have increased by 8 percent, from 50 percent to 54 percent of total Medicaid spending.

New York is one of a handful of states that requires counties (including New York City) to bear a portion of the nonfederal share of Medicaid. The 2008 bill specifically required states to share the savings from an increased FMAP with local governments in proportion to their current share of costs. Therefore, one would expect it to reduce both the state and the city’s Medicaid costs by 8 percent. But two special Medicaid payments to hospitals with a high proportion of low-income and uninsured patients—the Disproportionate Share Hospital and Upper Payment Limit programs—were specifically excluded from the FMAP increase.

New York City hospitals receive about $2 billion through these special payments, and the state and local shares are different from other Medicaid payments; most importantly, the city pays the entire nonfederal share of the $760 million going to public hospitals through these programs. As a result, they account for a large fraction of city Medicaid spending—about 12 percent. Relatively little of the special payments go to hospitals in other parts of the state, and in all other counties the cost is divided between county and state, just like other Medicaid spending. So New York City would get significantly less relief under the 2008 stimulus bill than other counties in the state.

By IBO’s estimate, the 2008 stimulus bill would reduce state Medicaid expenditures by 7.7 percent, or $1.1 billion. Counties outside of New York would save a similar proportion of their Medicaid costs. But New York City savings would be nearly a full percentage point lower: 6.8 percent, or $377 million for 2009. If the higher federal match covered all Medicaid payments, the city would save an estimated $428 million.

It appears that the FMAP increase being considered now is somewhat larger—4.8 percentage points, plus more for states with high unemployment. New York’s unemployment rate of 6.1 percent in November 2008 (the most recent month available) was significantly below the national average, so under this formula, as opposed to the one in the 2008 bill, the state may get only the basic FMAP increase. That means the savings to the city and state would be 20 percent higher than estimated above. Of course, the exact savings depend on the details of the bill, which are still being worked out; in particular, it is unclear whether the new stimulus bill will have the same exclusion for the special Medicaid payments as the 2008 bill.

One other point is worth noting: The state legislation that capped annual growth in local Medicaid spending is specifically written to limit local shares of Medicaid spending before the federal match. So in the absence of specific language like that in the 2008 bill, nothing in state law would require an increase in FMAP to be shared with New York City or other local governments. This is an issue New York City policymakers will want to watch closely as negotiations over the federal stimulus move forward.