Public Advocate Calls For Prioritizing Small Business Needs In City Budget

March 17th, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called for expanded funding to the Department of Small Business Services in the coming city budget, and the prioritization of the unique needs of New York's small businesses, at a City Council executive budget hearing Wednesday afternoon. The Public Advocate noted that the proposed $103.9 million budget for the Department is reduced by $32.3 million, or 31 percent, from the current fiscal year, and raised several key areas in which proposed cuts would be deeply detrimental.

"I am concerned about the budget's priorities and lack thereof," said the Public Advocate. "For example, the absence of funding for Workforce1 Career Centers that provide job placement assistance and skill training referrals. By the end of December 2020, New York City's unemployment rate was 11 percent. The psychological toll of unemployment can be devastating, particularly for people of more color who have disproportionately lost jobs. People deserve not only a chance at employment, but also a boost. I am also concerned about the lack of funding to enforce Equal Employment Opportunity compliance and workforce diversity requirements."

Public Advocate Williams also discussed the need to pass his legislation, Intro. 1990, that would provide interest-free loans to small businesses, non-profits, and freelance workers ineligible for state assistance. The bill is part of his Renewed Deal for New York, which also highlights the need to uplift M/WBEs, another focus of the Public Advocate's remarks.

"Minority and women-owned businesses must also be prioritized in the City's recovery," he argued. "The proposed executive budget slightly increases economic and financial opportunities for M/WBEs from $8.31 million in fiscal year 2021 to $8.38 million in fiscal year 2022. Of course, I welcome it, however we need to ensure M/WBEs can easily access our City's contracts. That increase is almost negligible. The contracting process can be opaque and confusing for M/WBEs. There is no time to wait, these firms face numerous challenges that can be corrected through government intervention."

Read the full statement from the Public Advocate for today's hearing below.

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE COMMITTEE ON SMALL BUSINESS -

EXECUTIVE BUDGET HEARING

MARCH 17, 2021

Good afternoon,

Thank you so much Chair Gjonaj, much appreciated. Thank you to the commissioner for being here. As mentioned, my name is Jumaane D. Williams. I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I am thankful for the opportunity to give a statement this afternoon.

At this time last year, New York City shut down all activities because of COVID-19. We still saw high infection rates and death rates, particularly in communities of more color, despite limiting the virus' spread. The sudden closures also meant businesses needed to close, with no knowledge of when to reopen. Clearly, federal assistance would have been needed as businesses wait for the pandemic to pass. We could have incentivized people to stay closed.

One year after, the need among small businesses is as great, perhaps greater, than last year. Numerous small businesses across the City have permanently closed, and workers have lost their jobs in a fragile economy. Loss of income can have serious impacts for communities across the City. That is why a relief plan is needed for the City's recovery. 

The administration's proposed Preliminary Budget for the Department of Small Business Services for fiscal year 2022 is $103.9 million. This is down by $32.3 million or 31 percent from the current fiscal year. I understand that the City is making tough decisions because of the sudden budget shortfalls resulting from COVID-19. The pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has upended municipal budgets across the country.

Yet I am concerned about the budget's priorities and lack thereof. For example, the absence of funding for Workforce1 Career Centers that provide job placement assistance and skill training referrals. By the end of December 2020, New York City's unemployment rate was 11 percent. The psychological toll of unemployment can be devastating, particularly for people of more color who have disproportionately lost jobs. People deserve not only a chance at employment, but also a boost. 

I am also concerned about the lack of funding to enforce Equal Employment Opportunity compliance and workforce diversity requirements. Diversity at workplaces was an issue before the pandemic, and it may have been amplified because of it. We need to make sure employers are following EEO compliance as well as, for example, ensuring opportunities for people with disabilities. 

Frankly, we must exhaust all of our efforts to help small businesses. That requires creative thinking on our part, and I commend the commissioner for talking with businesses across the City in the past year to find solutions. We need to be both transparent and proactive to ensure small businesses and workers get the help they need.

Earlier this month, my Office released A Renewed Deal for New York City. In it, I offer solutions to help the City's businesses and workers. For example, the City should suspend or severely cap commercial rent, offer tax breaks and deferments, and minimize cuts to SBS. Moreover, tax incentives usually offered for wealth corporations should instead go toward our small businesses.

One of my bills, Intro. No. 1990, is another great example of what we can do. The bill provides interest-free loans to small businesses, non-profits, and freelance workers ineligible for state assistance. The commissioner would determine the specific details of the program, from the application process to potential forgiveness. The legislation is one of several solutions that is needed for one of the worst economic crises in the City's history. 

Finally, minority and women-owned businesses must also be prioritized in the City's recovery. The proposed executive budget slightly increases economic and financial opportunities for M/WBEs from $8.31 million in fiscal year 2021 to $8.38 million in fiscal year 2022. Of course, I welcome it, however we need to ensure M/WBEs can easily access our City's contracts. That increase is almost negligible. The contracting process can be opaque and confusing for M/WBEs. There is no time to wait, these firms face numerous challenges that can be corrected through government intervention. We need to level the playing field for historically disadvantaged firms. In general, the administration must ensure that the executive budget reflects the priorities of New Yorkers. Especially with the influx of money expected from the federal government.

I hope we change some of these numbers. It is not lost on me that we are decreasing the amount of many agency budgets, while increasing the NYPD's. That shouldn't be lost on anyone and the message that may send. Being a former small business owner who didn't quite make it like some others, I can only imagine what it would have been like during the pandemic. I worry that if we don't reflect the priority properly, we can anticipate discussion and potential budget changes as negotiations take place. I hope that happens. Thank you to the chair. I look forward to today's hearing. 

Our Office

David N. Dinkins Municipal Building
1 Centre Street 15th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Email: gethelp@advocate.nyc.gov

Hotline: (212) 669-7250

Fax: (888) 409-0287*

Text: (833) 933-1692

*Our fax number has changed temporarily while we upgrade our infrastructure
© 2024 Copyright: Office of the New York City Public Advocate
Privacy Policy