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March 9, 2023
Hon. Carl E. Heastie
Speaker New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building,
Room 932 Albany, New York 12248
Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader
188 State Street Legislative Office Building,
Room 907 Albany, New York 12247
Dear Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins:
We, the undersigned, write with an urgent request: that both houses of the New York State legislature prioritize inclusion of desperately overdue state-wide cash assistance program grant increases in each one-house budget bill and the final state budget for 2023-2024 including: (1) an increase in the basic needs cash assistance allowance to reflect inflation in the amount of $192.5 million; and (2) an increase in the cash assistance designated for rent (called the shelter allowance) that reflects the actual cost of rent across New York State. The current levels of these benefits – both a fundamental part of New York’s existing statutory safety net – have not been updated in decades. Each successive year of inaction, New Yorkers are experiencing even deeper poverty, along with housing instability and homelessness, adverse health outcomes, poor long-term economic prospects, and a host of other negative collateral consequences.
We cannot afford to wait any longer for the needs of the lowest-income New Yorkers to be addressed.
Increase the Cash Assistance Basic Needs Allowance
Assembly Social Services member and Housing Chair Rosenthal and Senate Social Services Chair Persaud have introduced bills that would update cash assistance grant levels to increase the ability of the lowest-income households to afford necessities, including clothing, diapers, hygiene products, over the counter medication, and transportation. See S.5270 (Persaud)/A.9130 (last session; awaiting reintroduced bill number). Assembly Social Services Committee Chair Davila has called for the same. The cost to the State for the increases proposed is $192.5 million.
This investment in low-income New Yorkers and the strength of our communities cannot wait another year. The basic needs allowance is designed to help people pay for life’s most basic necessities. Because the basic needs allowance has not been updated since 2011, and has never kept pace with inflation, it is woefully inadequate to cover these essential expenses. The utility supplement portions of the basic needs grant have also not been updated since they were established, in 1981 and 1986, respectively. The result is that a family of three with no other income is granted only $389 a month to meet their basic needs, including money for utilities. A single person anywhere in the State, including New York City, is expected to survive on $183 per month—or just $6 a day—for their basic needs. An increase is especially important right now, as New York families are about to lose the Emergency Allotments in SNAP that have been helping to keep many households afloat.
This is a problem the legislature has the power and the obligation to address now.
Increase the Cash Assistance Shelter Allowance Amount to the HUD Fair Market Rent
HUD Fair Market Rent levels (FMR) represent what low-income New Yorkers actually need to pay for an affordable rental around the state. The Assembly and Senate have already recognized this when they passed legislation ultimately signed into law by Governor Hochul in December 2021 that set the HUD FMR as the appropriate measure of housing costs for the FHEPS rental assistance program for certain families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness who receive cash assistance in New York City.
Now it is time for the legislature to address years of neglect and extend this common-sense notion to all cash assistance recipients and raise the cash assistance shelter allowance to 100 percent of the Fair Market Rent to be adjusted annually in line with the relevant FMRs. See S.2982 (re-introduced this session)/A.8900 (last session) would increase the shelter allowance up to HUD FMR. The cash assistance shelter allowance has not been updated for households with children since 2003, and for adult-only households since 1988. The current cash assistance shelter amounts are so low that, aside from federally subsidized housing units with rents set at 30% of tenant income, there are literally zero habitable rental units priced at the level of the shelter allowance anywhere in New York State. For example, in Albany, the cash assistance shelter allowance for a family of three is $309. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that there are simply no apartments that meet basic housing quality standards in the private rental market for $309 in Albany County. HUD’s data and analysis for every county in New York States shows that there are no units in the private market at or even near the meager cash assistance shelter allowance.
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Increasing the basic needs allowance to keep pace with inflation and increasing the maximum rent allowance for cash assistance recipients to the HUD FMR will help lift affected New Yorkers out of deep poverty in every community comprising our great state.