NYC budget boss says city on track to blow past $4.3B migrant crisis estimate: ‘God bless us’
New York — Mayor Eric Adams has estimated that the city will spend $4.3 billion on the local asylum-seeker crisis by next summer — but his budget director suggested Tuesday that eye-popping price tag could actually be an understatement.
The budget boss, Jacques Jiha, issued the warning during an at times contentious City Council hearing in which Democratic members of the chamber blasted Adams’ push to cut funding in next fiscal year’s budget for a variety of social service, education and cultural agencies.
Jiha testified that the proposed cuts are justified because of the “fiscal emergency” posed by the city’s migrant crisis. The situation is getting so dire, Jiha said, that the administration is likely to increase its projection for how much the city will shell out on the crisis by July 1, 2024.
“If this trajectory continues, asylum-seeker costs will grow dramatically above the $4.3 billion forecast,” he said, adding that the cost concerns are being fueled by a recent uptick in new migrant arrivals.
Jiha did not offer a specific new estimated price tag, but referenced the mayor’s statement Monday that 5,800 migrants arrived last week alone.
“If that trend were to continue, God bless us,” Jiha said. “It is hard to fathom that this could be more than $4.3 billion in the next year.”
Under the administration’s previous cost estimate, the city will spend $1.4 billion on housing, feeding and providing services for migrants by this July 1. Jiha said the administration remains confident in that projection, adding that $1 billion had already been spent on migrants as of the end of April.
Given Jiha’s contention that the $4.3 billion price tag is low-balled, the administration believes it will spend at least $3 billion between this July 1 and next July 1.
Some stakeholders have been skeptical about the administration’s cost projections.
The Independent Budget Office released estimates last month finding that the city is likely to spend between $2.7 billion and $3.7 billion on the migrant crisis by July 1, 2024.
Council Finance Committee Chairman Justin Brannan, who headed Tuesday’s hearing, said the IBO’s estimates are “closer to what the Council” believes the city will spend on migrant costs in that time frame.
In addition to casting doubt over the administration’s projections, Council Democrats have said they believe the Adams administration is spending unwisely on some migrant housing and services. They have questioned why the daily cost to the city of housing a migrant household is far more expensive in the administration’s Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers than in traditional shelters.
The Council’s finance team has also projected that the city is set to rake in more tax revenue than estimated by the mayor’s office — and argued that extra money should be used to prevent city budget cuts sought by Adams.
Brooklyn Councilman Chi Osse, a progressive Democrat, told Jiha that, against that backdrop, the administration’s push for slashing funding for libraries and early education programs does not make sense.
“It seems a little bit like we’re being gaslit,” Osse said.
Jiha responded by saying it’s “frustrating” that Council members are questioning the administration’s cost estimates. He said he’s totally confident in the estimates because he’s the “architect” of them and argued that proposed budget trims are motivated by the fact that the city has “to pay for the migrant crisis.”
“It doesn’t help us when people are questioning the numbers,” he said.
The Council and the mayor’s team must reach a deal on next fiscal year’s city budget by July 1.