Cut $1 Billion from the NYPD Budget—for the Sake of New York Seniors | Opinion

I have advocated for better New York City budgets for 28 years. As the former Director of Public Policy at the nonprofit organization LiveOn NY, a lead advocate for community-based aging services, I've long been attuned to the fact that the Department for the Aging receives less than one half of 1 percent of the city's budget, despite serving almost 20 percent of the city's population. The mountains of ageism, racism, and sexism were always too high a climb for the city to adequately fund services for the fastest growing segment of our population, those age 60 and up.

Not so for the NYPD: Throughout my career, it was an open secret that the policing budget was untouchable, no matter the rhetoric, while aging services and other social services were slashed time and time again.

This budget prioritization has never reflected our city's needs. That is only more the case during the COVID-19 pandemic: Instead of investing in the programs that will provide long-term stability, the Mayor's austerity budget threatens to cut funding, deepening the inequity and increasing the pain for those who have already been hit hardest by this crisis — people of color, immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and other low income communities.

There could not be a worse time to cut funding for such programs. In the midst of this pandemic, it is more important than ever that the city ensure community-based senior services are fully funded so that older New Yorkers have access to nutritious food, social work supports, home care, secure housing, health and mental health support. Yet the Mayor's budget proposes eliminating previous one-time funds such as $2.84 million for home-delivered meals for seniors (despite clearly increasing need); $2.8 million for senior centers in NYCHA; and $1 million for case management.

This pandemic and the current powerful uprising for Black lives have laid bare our city's structural inequalities for all to see. The NYPD's out-of-control and unaccountable behavior has been on full display. And while care providers put themselves in harm's way as additional potential victims of this virus, NYPD officers continue to willfully flout state-mandated mask policies, putting everyone with whom they interact at risk. Yet the city's fiscal priorities continue to largely maintain the NYPD's funding while treating social services as expendable.

Dignified care and care jobs is a critical racial justice issue; The people who use social services are also treated as expendable: Over half of all older New Yorkers are people of color and immigrants. One out of five are living in poverty, surviving on less than $12,000 a year in this expensive city. In the year to come, as the city continues to fight COVID-19, New Yorkers will be struggling with the aftermath of the shutdown and trying to meet their basic needs during a recession. Demands on community-based aging services agencies will only increase.

During this pandemic, the aging services workforce has been vigilant about remaining in contact with seniors. Care providers have personal connections and are trusted to ensure seniors have food and aren't isolated. Like the elders they care for, the majority of these providers are also people of color. The workforce is predominantly made up of immigrant women of color who earn minimum wage as they deliver vital in-home care services to people with disabilities, seniors, and others who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

That care has continued, because it is essential. The essential care workers, however, are paid poverty wages and sent to the frontlines with inadequate protective supplies. It goes without saying that all home care workers should at minimum have the PPE they need to protect their health. At minimum they should receive compensation in accordance with Int. No. 1918, the common sense proposal to provide "premium pay" to home care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of right now, they aren't.

The prevailing message from the city is that in a budget deficit, difficult decisions must be made across the board. The choice to defund social services while maintaining funding for the NYPD is not a difficult decision; it is the wrong decision, especially given that the $6 billion NYPD budget is already several times larger than the budget for many core social services.

In the peak of this pandemic, hundreds of New Yorkers were dying per day, thousands more were sick, and millions were and are unemployed and without health insurance, facing an uncertain future and in many cases going hungry. The potential of a second wave could leave older New Yorkers as vulnerable as the first wave has, unless budget supports are put in place now.

Time is running out. The City Council votes on the budget today, June 24. Older New Yorkers will be there, outside on the plaza, to demand the NYPD budget be cut by at least $1 billion dollars in this fiscal year. People at higher risk, would not be going out in person if we were not at risk of losing the essential services we need to survive; if we were not truly worried that some lawmakers value policing more than New Yorkers' ability to age with dignity, more than Black lives. All we can do is gather and speak out to protect investments in human services, the social safety net, and a caring economy that will allow all New Yorkers to survive and thrive.

Bobbie Sackman is a member leader at Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the New York Caring Majority, and the former Director of Public Policy at LiveOn NY.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​