City Hall, NY – Today, Speaker Adrienne Adams delivered opening remarks at the Council’s Committee on Finance, Committee on General Welfare, and Committee on Oversight and Investigations’ joint oversight hearing on the costs and projections of the mayoral administration’s asylum seeker response effort. In her remarks, Speaker Adams expresses the importance of the City using taxpayer dollars efficiently and clients receiving effective services. She also raises concerns about the increasing per-diem cost of services for individual asylum seekers and asks why economies of scale are not being achieved.

Below are the Speaker’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I’m New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Thank you for joining us today, and thank you to Finance Chair Justin Brannan, General Welfare Chair Diana Ayala, and Oversight and Investigations Chair Gale Brewer for leading today’s critical hearing on the City’s actual and projected costs related to asylum seeker response efforts.

Since last year, New York City has welcomed tens of thousands of people seeking asylum, who are fleeing dire humanitarian conditions and violence, in the United States. The City has provided support to many of those seeking to establish a better life here for themselves and their families through the provision of shelter, food, and other essential services.

The Council has advocated for comprehensive solutions to support our new arrivals and longtime New Yorkers in the city’s shelter system, including the removal of barriers to housing vouchers for longtime homeless shelter residents and urging expedited federal work authorization for migrants to achieve self-sufficiency through employment. While the Biden Administration’s re-designation of Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela charts a path for thousands of people to receive work permits, we know there are additional solutions needed to provide greater relief.

At today’s joint oversight hearing, we are examining the City’s spending decisions and estimates related to the different services it is providing. We want to ensure that the City is using taxpayer dollars efficiently, and also receiving effective services through its spending.

The Administration indicated that it had spent $1.45 billion on services for asylum seekers in Fiscal Year 2023. In the adopted Fiscal Year 2024 budget, there was approximately double the amount ($2.9 billion) allocated to cover expenses associated with services. However, in August, the Administration released new projections that estimated that the cost of care would increase to $4.7 billion by the end of the current fiscal year, and that would increase to another $6.1 billion in the next fiscal year. These projections represent a significant increase.

Of equal concern is the fact that the per-diem cost for individual asylum seekers has also risen, raising questions about the efficiency of our spending, given that economies of scale are not being achieved. As a Council, we want to gain a better understanding of how and why these per-diem costs are increasing. The per-diem cost estimate, as of January, was $363 across all agencies and types of asylum seeker shelter. During budget negotiations and adoption, the Administration indicated this per-diem would be reduced. However, the per-diem rate increased to $383 as of July 31st, $387 as of September 11th, and $394 as of October 10th. When we’re providing more services for an increased population, the cost of services per person should be going down. It’s perplexing why the projections do not reflect this and continue to rise.

Additionally, it’s troubling that these per-diem rates are exponentially higher than those of the Department of Homeless Services, which is the City’s largest shelter-administering agency. In Fiscal Year 2022, the last year in which DHS per diem costs did not include the housing of asylum seekers, the DHS per diem cost was $136 for single adults, $172 for adult families, and $188 for families with children. 

We look forward to digging deeper into the City’s spending and examining how duplication of services is being eliminated and efficiencies are being achieved. With so many different City agencies and third-party contractors involved, it is vital that we break down who is providing which services to whom, if these services are effectively supporting those who need them, and whether what is being paid for services provided is efficient.

As we enter the third year of welcoming people seeking asylum, it is critical that our city shifts our mindset and approach away from expensive emergency spending and towards long-term planning that achieves economies of scale and efficiency. There are important questions about whether it’s effective or cost-efficient for private emergency contractors to continue being relied upon for these responsibilities, or if certain services can be shifted to mission-driven nonprofit organizations that have already been doing the work and are invested in the long-term success of our communities and those being served.

I look forward to hearing from City agencies, advocates, and the public about how we can best support those seeking asylum and plan for the long-term success of our city.

I want to thank the Council’s legislative, finance, and oversight and investigations staff for their hard work on today’s crucial hearing. 

Now, I’ll turn it back over to Chair Brannan.