The office of Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the Department of Veterans Services will be receiving additional funding after reassessing the budget. “We are bringing the budget to close to $4 million for every year of the financial plan, which is through Fiscal Year 2021,” according to Freddie Goldstein, executive press secretary for de Blasio, who confirmed the development via Twitter.
Last month, the mayor released his proposed budget of $84.7 billion for New York City – a $12 billion increase from 2014. Despite this increase, the Department of Veteran Services, an agency that was established just one year ago, was set to lose $300,000.
Alexis Wochowski, press secretary and senior advisor for communications at the Department of Veterans Services, noted that the $300,000 that was delegated for 2016 went towards covering start-up costs, which are not relevant to this year’s budget.
“The changes reflect non-recurring budget costs for computers, desks and lamps, because we’re not going to have to buy them every year,” Wochowski said on Feb. 1.
New York City’s veteran community of over 200,000 was extremely vocal about the proposed $300,000 loss, however. Last week, over 40 veterans, supporters and local politicians protested de Blasio’s proposed budget in front of City Hall. A second protest was already scheduled for Feb. 14. Many veterans felt that more money should be going towards supporting veterans needs, not less.
During a Veterans Advisory Board update meeting on Wednesday Councilman Eric Ulrich, chair of the veterans committee, asked Loree Sutton, commissioner for the Department of Veterans Services, about de Blasio’s proposed budget in regards to veterans.
“There have been some concerns about ambiguous reductions in the mayor’s proposed budget for 2017,” said Ulrich. “But the administration has assured me that the cuts would not go through.”
Sutton immediately said that what was proposed by de Blasio originally did not constitute “cuts,” but one time start-up costs that are no longer necessary.
But, in the same breath, Sutton confirmed with Ulrich that her department will be receiving funding to address new needs, separate from the $300,000 proposed loss due to one-time start-up costs.
“I am happy to say that we have identified some new needs that we didn’t know existed last year and we’re looking forward to strengthening our existing programs,” said Sutton.
On Tuesday night after the board meeting, NYC Veterans Alliance posted on Facebook, “We did it! We just got word that Mayor Bill de Blasio is revising his budget proposal for the NYC Department of Veterans Services so that funding WILL NOT BE REDUCED. You have been heard!”
In response to a question about whether or not the strong pushback from the veterans community had anything to do with de Blasio’s swift change of mind, the mayor’s press secretary, Goldstein, said, “We are always listening to what our vets have to say and always funding them to the best of our abilities.”
“We are adding additional funding onto the executive budget for DVS because they have identified a new area of needs,” said Goldstein.
The additional money will go towards funding a new pilot program, VetConnect NYC, which aims to provide easier access to online resources and benefits for veterans and their families, as well as an aftercare coordinator position.
The mayor’s office is still in the process of confirming how much the Department of Veterans Services will be receiving annually.