State lawmakers want more funding for workers and human services in the state budget compared to what Gov. Kathy Hochul wants as workforce sectors across the state remain under-resourced and much of the executive's proposal reduces spending ahead of projected future deficits.
With all members of the Legislature up for election this fall, it's no surprise they'll fight for more, which left several members of the governor's cabinet to defend her proposed cuts at Wednesday's budget hearing on human services in Albany.
"We are all trying to figure out how to support the workforce with the ability to invest in certain sectors more than others," state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) acting Commissioner Suzanne Miles-Gustave said during Wednesday's testimony.
Child care providers have largely bounced back after hundreds closed their doors during the pandemic, and last year's budget expanded aid for care to thousands of families. The state had 17,447 child care providers across the state at the end of 2023, up from 17,161 in 2021, according to the OCFS.
Hochul's $233 billion budget proposal maintains last year's $7 billion commitment to child care over four years and $1.8 billion in subsidized care.
Miles-Gustave told lawmakers the department is analyzing a new, higher market subsidy rate to be released in October as the state's current subsidy rates fall short of the true cost of care.
But low pay for staff continues to be the largest barrier to access as the state's Child Care Availability Task Force explores how New York could work toward a universal child care program.
Miles-Gustave deferred questions from lawmakers about increasing taxes on the rich to afford a universal system for the Legislature and Second Floor to negotiate, but noted more funding would always be welcome.
"Like with any industry, if we had any greater investment, we could do more," Miles-Gustave said. "We all can agree that all of our social services industries would like more."
Leaders with AARP New York are upset about Hochul's cuts made to the State Office For the Aging, including $9.3 million legislative addition from non-Medicaid home care, meal delivery programs and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which provides oversight of adult care facilities. They want an additional investment of $51 million to make up for the lost funding and help about 16,000 people on waitlists waiting for care.
Beth Finkel, state director of AARP New York and leaders from Lifespan and LiveOn NY sent a letter to legislative leaders Wednesday pushing the Legislature to restore the funding in their one-house budgets.
"We know it's a tough budget year, but honestly, SOFA has the smallest budget in New York state," Finkel said. "It's minuscule. It's under 1%."
Assembly Aging Committee chair Ron Kim challenged State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen about the governor's cuts to the agency, which helps connect older New Yorkers to non-Medicaid programs.
He argues higher investments in the department could help save the state billions of dollars in growing Medicaid costs over time — critical as Hochul proposed $1.2 billion in Medicaid cuts to home care, nursing homes and managed long-term care and more.
Olsen replied he's confident the state's ongoing development of a new Master Plan for Aging will properly direct the state's future support of services for elderly New Yorkers.
"I believe that the governor wants to create a mechanism to look at, not siloed approaches, but a whole system's approach," Olsen said.
Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas sponsors legislation to increase the minimum SNAP, or food stamps, benefit available for low-income New Yorkers as some people receive monthly payments of $23.
The assemblywoman's bill would increase the minimum benefit to $100, and she's pushing for its inclusion in the final budget, citing a recent state Health Department report showing 1 in 4 New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity.
State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance acting Commissioner Barbara Guinn said she'd support the increase.
Lawmakers are also displeased with $2.4 million in cuts to the state Department of Veterans' Services, and criticized the way the agency has not increased its staff since being elevated to a department in 2022.
Veterans Services Department Commissioner Viviana DeCohen said the department secured more than $800 million in tax-free federal benefits for veterans and their families, and will use $1.25 million in the governor's budget to hire more staff.
But the commissioner denied the $2.4 million funding reduction is a cut, and told lawmakers the department nets results in areas they don't see, including the women veterans trail and resources for suicide prevention.
"We have our veterans at the table, and they all are being fed," DeCohen said. "...But I don't have to tell you that we're standing on a beach with sand and what we have done with the sand is not to ask for more sand. But we have done in showing for the dollars of bringing in over $800 million speaks for itself."
Hochul's office did not return a request for comment about the AARP letter and the organization's accusations the executive budget is ageist and fails older New Yorkers.