President's Message

A Cap is a Cut is a Block Grant: Why We Strongly Oppose the Governor’s Proposal to Cap NYC Preventive Services Funding

At Schuyler Center, we often describe our mission as shining a spotlight on policies that are overlooked because they concern communities without political clout, or because they are obscured by complexity. We aim to pull these policies out of the shadows to hold policymakers accountable to all New Yorkers.

One of the proposals in the Governor’s Budget – to cap funding for New York City’s protective and preventive child welfare – represents a radical restructuring of the State’s child welfare system that could result in drastic reductions in services for children and families who are at highest risk of entering New York’s child welfare system, for years to come. Yet, it is a proposal that is in danger of being overlooked because it affects one of the most politically powerless groups in New York – children and families involved in the child welfare system. In addition, the broad and dramatic implications of this seemingly simple proposal to cap this funding stream are not apparent on its face.   

The State’s child welfare preventive and protective fund allows counties to direct resources to at-risk children and families before children need to be placed in foster care, and be reimbursed for 65% of those expenditures. The Executive Budget would end the open-ended nature of the fund, jeopardizing communities’ capacity to respond to need. While the proposal targets New York City only, it sets a dangerous precedent for future caps based on the Governor’s perception of county capacity and willingness.

Tens of thousands of children receive preventive services in New York State each month.1 These services range from family counseling to substance abuse treatment. And the State’s current financing structure has allowed localities across the state to grow, expand, and tailor services to address new needs as they arise in their communities.

In 2002, New York State made the smart, strategic decision to develop a proactive child welfare system that incentivizes programs that deliver positive outcomes for kids and families, instead of foster care. Prior to this move, the state had seen increases in foster care numbers, along with increased child abuse and decreased use of prevention, under a financial system that block granted all child welfare services. In response, in 2002, the state created the current child welfare financing structure: block grants for foster care and uncapped, open-ended funding for preventive and protective services. 

This financing structure, which incentivizes prevention and outcomes, has been working for over 15 years. New York City has lowered child protective caseloads to an average of 10, which is one of the best ways to ensure high-quality investigations. And the use of foster care has plummeted throughout the state. Since 2002, New York City’s foster care population has decreased dramatically from 18,000 to today’s fewer than 9,000 children currently in foster care.

Our current funding structure works because it allows counties to adjust their spending to meet the needs that arise in their communities. When county need increases, due to an epidemic like the opioid crisis, or a spike in reporting of neglect or abuse, as often happens after a child tragedy occurs, State funding responds to help communities meet increased need.

The proposal that the Governor has put before the Legislature, to cap State reimbursement to New York City for preventive and protective services, would radically restructure child welfare financing, and put our children at risk. Such a cap would limit counties’ ability to expand and adjust services to meet new need, and shift new costs to the City. This proposal is about saving State dollars, but the harsh impact would be felt by New York State’s children and their families – possibly for years to come. 

Please consider contacting your State legislators urging them to remove this financing proposal from the Executive Budget.   

If you would like to learn about the other proposals in the Executive Budget that would harm New York low-income children, particularly children of color, read our analysis here. As we move into the final stages of budget negotiations, it is incumbent upon our legislators and the Governor to enact a state budget that puts our children first, not last.

Kate Breslin
President and CEO


Our Impact 2020