When COVID-19 reached New York City, we put the health and safety of New Yorkers above all. We closed our schools, gyms, restaurants, businesses, houses of worship, museums—the places that make our economy run and bring our people joy. It wasn’t easy or politically expedient.
But it was the right thing to do. It saved lives.
We knew those decisions, along with the broader pain this crisis has inflicted, would come with a severe economic cost. That’s come true: COVID-19 has led to a $9 billion loss in city government revenue so far. A million or more New Yorkers have lost jobs during this crisis. Those numbers are staggering.
The city made billions in painful cuts to balance our budget for next year. We focused on keeping the crucial services our most vulnerable rely on: childcare and Pre-K programs, food deliveries for home-bound seniors, rent assistance for low-income families.
As we’ve fought our way back, New Yorkers have been nothing short of extraordinary. City workers—firefighters, teachers, EMTs, sanitation workers—have kept our communities going, even as they deal with grief and economic hardship themselves. And all 8.6 million New Yorkers have worked in common cause to beat back this virus, wearing masks and socially distancing to make New York City’s infection rate one of the lowest in the nation.
What New Yorkers deserve now is help—a partner to financially support our city and the tough, resilient people who made this comeback possible. The federal government exists for moments like this. Yet the response of the Trump administration and Mitch McConnell’s Senate has been cruel. Rather than supporting the people that keep the country going, they cut unemployment benefits and left cities and states to fend for themselves. They claim to be protecting the people’s pocketbook—by starving them. Talks of a federal stimulus that would directly aid localities like ours during this financial crisis appear dead for now.
This federal irresponsibility has left New York City with only two options. We can borrow about $5 billion, repaying it responsibly over the next 30 years. Or, we’ll be forced to cut additional services and lay off 22,000 city workers.
Long-term borrowing must be our path forward, and we need Albany’s approval to do it. This is the right thing to do for our city workers, who have been heroes in this crisis. We’ve proven it can work before: New York City crucially borrowed after 9/11, did so responsibly, and emerged stronger. With our city’s strong Aa1 bond credit rating now, we can expect the same strong fiscal management.
The alternative is to force New York City down a path of austerity in the middle of a financial crisis. First: it’s bad economics. Laying off a teacher or sanitation worker leaves them without income. That means less money spent at our small businesses and restaurants—places already hanging by a thread in this crisis. That leads to those businesses shuttering their doors, taking away the jobs of those who work there and key places in our communities.
It’s a vicious cycle that we cannot and should not inflict on ourselves.
And in that example is an equally important point. Austerity will hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest. Working-class New Yorkers will lose their livelihoods and fall deeper into crisis. Advocating for austerity right now is just another way of saying wealthier people should not be burdened with responsibility to help those in need—the people who’ve cooked their food, driven their taxis and cleaned their streets so they could stay safe at home during the pandemic.
The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world. And yet in this moment, tens of millions of Americans are worried about their jobs, their food, their shelter as the ruling class equivocates about fiscal responsibility and debt. We can wait and see how long hard-working and long-suffering people will tolerate this kind of talk from their government leaders, but I suspect it will not be too much longer. Or we can do what’s best for our city and state, and borrow responsibly.
Albany can be our needed partner in this moment. The state can and must act to approve long-term borrowing authority for our city now. Help New York City protect its people, and emerge stronger from this crisis.