New York City Passes $99 Billion Budget, Its Largest Ever, to Aid Pandemic Recovery

Helped along by an enormous infusion of federal pandemic aid, New York City officials agreed on Wednesday to adopt the city’s largest budget ever, a $98.7 billion spending plan that restores many of the service cuts prompted by the sudden economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.

The budget, which includes $14 billion in federal aid, represents a sharp reversal from last year when the city locked down its economy to control the outbreak, creating a major financial strain and forcing the city to reduce its spending.

But with the pandemic receding amid rising vaccination rates and the lifting of public health restrictions, the outlook for New York has grown brighter. Restaurants and bars are filling with patrons, and popular gathering spots like Times Square are showing glimmers of their prepandemic bustle.

The budget approved on Wednesday is roughly $10.5 billion higher than last year and is $24 billion higher than Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first budget in 2014.

Mr. de Blasio has called his last spending plan a “recovery budget” that builds on the $8 billion the city has already spent to fight the pandemic. The city will spend $30 million to promote the return of tourism and hire 10,000 residents to form a cleaning corps across the city.

To address racial and economic disparities exposed by the pandemic and national protests over the killing of George Floyd, the city will deposit $100 into the accounts of all kindergartners as part of a “Baby Bonds” effort that could expand to $15 million in the next fiscal year.

The city will also invest $4 million to fund full scholarships for Black and low-income residents to the City University of New York and $6.5 million to quickly train 1,000 New Yorkers for jobs in high-demand fields.

To address a rise in shootings and homicides that have plagued the city since the pandemic, the city will spend $24 million to hire 1,000 people who are most at risk of participating in or being a victim of violence in various neighborhoods, including Brownsville, Brooklyn, South Jamaica, Queens, and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

The city also set aside $1 billion in a rainy-day fund to respond to any unexpected challenges, including another pandemic.

“This is a recovery budget that will allow this city to come back strong,” Mr. de Blasio said in the rotunda of City Hall, where he announced the agreement along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Mr. Johnson added, “We have restored many programs to the prepandemic level,” before listing literacy and anti-hate crime efforts.

But some critics said the budget does not focus enough on creating jobs and instead invests money on starting programs that will require tax increases to maintain once the federal aid dries up.

“They should be investing in the restart of the private sector economy, small businesses, minority businesses,’‘ said Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group. “Local chambers of commerce could be running cleanup efforts. We should stimulate the private sector economy rather than expand city hiring.”

The city also reversed cuts to parks, libraries and cultural institutions that were made because of the pandemic.

“Last year was a very difficult budget,” Mr. Johnson said. “We had to make very difficult decisions.”

And, perhaps underscoring a far different mood than last year, the budget deal did not end with just the typical handshake. Instead Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Johnson shook hands, then hugged and finally extended high-fives.

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